Many Atlantans, Georgians and Southerners may recall the legendary images of the Great Tree, the store’s clock or the Pink Pig. Some may recall the taste of its famous coconut cake.
These memories and artifacts will be on display at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown next fall with the help of curator Catherine Lewis.
“Many people ask, ‘Why is a Jewish museum doing an exhibit on a department store?’” said Aaron Berger, the museum’s executive director. “Not only was the Morris Rich, the founder, Jewish and embraced a lot of Jewish values, but it’s also our goal to begin showcasing stories that anyone may be familiar with. This will certainly appeal to a huge audience.”
While the exhibit is in the creative phase now, museum officials have already collected pieces for the exhibit, including a 54-foot mural that hung over the Alabama Street entrance to Rich’s which exhibited fashion through time, a pink pig monorail car and enough Rich’s shoes to fill a whole wall of the exhibit. The mural was found in the Coca-Cola archives, according to Berger.
The idea for the exhibit was birthed after the museum hosted an August event for Jeff Clemmons’ book about the store, “Rich’s: A Southern Institution.”
“The exhibit is going to be about Rich’s and its relationship to Atlanta and Atlanta’s relationship to Rich’s,” said Berger. “They were a huge part of the community and not just Atlanta, but all of Georgia.”Berger said in the 1920s, the city of Atlanta had a cash shortage. The city issued script to city employees, instead of paychecks. Rich’s took the city-issued script as payment.
District 6 U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, is credited with saying that the store gave him a credit card when no one would give black men credit cards.
“From [the] Civil Rights [Era], the Depression to the evolution of technology, Rich’s was in the middle of it all,” said Berger.
Every year, Rich’s would host a runway show called Fashionata.
Neighbor Newspapers columnist Sally White, who worked for Neiman Marcus for years, was often involved in the fashion show and worked with Saul Kent, the Rich’s fashion director.
“For so long, Rich’s was the only store in the South that had that kind of high level of fashion,” she said.
The museum will also display Rich’s fashions, including a whole wall of shoes from the store.
Officials are asking for stories, artifacts and anything else Rich’s related.
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