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The F. & R. Lazarus Christmas Parade Legacy and Westerville

Updated on December 10, 2012

Federated Department Stores began in 1851 when Simon Lazarus, studying to become a rabbi, arrived in Columbus, Ohio before the Civil War and opened a store on Town Street. This was a few blocks away from both a jail for prisoners of war (later, the Ohio Penitentiary) and in the other direction, what today is the Ohio Statehouse. The northwest suburb of Dublin at this time was the Wild West, just 48 years after statehood, with muddy streets, shoot-‘em-up saloons, and blacksmiths. To the northeast, what is now Westerville was mostly farmland. Columbus, though, had a department store.

F. and R. Lazarus

The new store of the 1910s at the corner of High and Rich Streets.
The new store of the 1910s at the corner of High and Rich Streets.

Lazarus set consistent prices for goods in his store and it grew. Another custom was Lazarus parades. In the 1890s, news of the Spanish American War (Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, was posted as soon as it was updated in the large windows of Lazarus for everyone to see (my grandfather saw it). When the war ended and Columbusites and others returned home from the war, the entire retinue of Lazarus employees marched in parade formation in the streets to welcome the soldiers home. It was an all-male staff of 150 people at the time, but women were hired shortly.

This was very different from some other businesses and even new fast food chains post-WWII, which kept the all-male restaurant staff into the late 1960s – early 1970s. A high school girl down the street from us joined the Navy and served close to the Viet Nam action, but she could not get a job at a fast food chain. Well, the times changed and that chain became diverse as well, but Lazarus beat them to it by over 50 years.

Diversity and Change

Lazarus was particularly well known for hiring women and the physically challenged during the first half of the 20th Century. It was one of their hallmarks. Another was the return of goods for refund or exchange without questions, always. Another famous Lazarus tradition was the day after Thanksgiving, when the Lazarus Christmas Parade marched after the store moved to High Street in the 1910s and after Fred Lazarus, Jr. and others influenced FDR to make Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November to allow an extra weekend of shopping (thank them for Black Friday). The Friday parade ended at the Lazarus front door, with Santa’s float bringing up the rear and signaling the shopping to begin, and people loved it for decades

The same day, the gigantic picture windows on High Street and Town Street were filled with Christmas and winter scenes that included mechanical and electrical figures that entertained children who walked up the special Christmas ramps placed in front of the windows so they could see better. It was a yearly wonderland that we miss today. The building merged with other Federated Stores to become Macy’s, then finally, a County Government office. Morehouse Fashion department store was across High Street; it became The Union, and then gave way to the City Center Mall, with an ice rink in the winter. The mall fell into economic hard times and crime and was torn down in the late 2000s. Another sort of commercial and residential complex will replace it in the 2010s, with a working carousel on High Street. A new kind of Christmas – or Winter Holidays – will take the place of the Lazarus Christmas Parade.

Lazarus/Macy's Front Street side before closure in August 2004
Lazarus/Macy's Front Street side before closure in August 2004

The Lazarus Friday Christmas Parade

The parade was shorter than Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but contained its own stars, just like Macy’s national figures in NYC– Flippo the Clown, Lucy and her Toy Shop from TV, cartoon characters, heroes, toy soldiers, floats, marching bands, local news anchors, and a lot more I cannot remember. Inside the store, Christmas music played and Santa worked on the 6th floor, entirely filled with a toy department.

An auditorium on the toy floor was decorated inside with a winding path of Christmas scenes on the walkway walls – silver snowflakes, white angel hair, and artificial snow covering silver trees. Characters from Toyland and the North Pole greeted the children, and although I did not believe in Santa, he was always a nice gentleman and I was excited to see Mr. Talking Tree. He was a TV character and as a large talking tree, he was friendly to all the girls and boys. He was our friend. Candy canes were given and a Christmas Show was performed on stage. The kids could go to the annex at the Town Street entrance (the store filled an entire square block and several annexes) and shop at the children’s Christmas store for gifts for their parents -- The door was so short that adults could not enter. It’s all gone now, but new traditions have emerged.

Macy's 2009 Parade Finale - Santa Claus and "I Believe"

Move to the Suburbs

Our suburbs have Christmas Parades these days, sponsored by civic associations, churches, or businesses; nand suburban malls have Christmas or Winter Holiday events, including live music and dance performances.

Westerville in the northeast corner of the Greater Columbus Area throws a Children’s Christmas Parade and 5K Rudolph Run every year. It gives area children a treat during winter break and Christmas Holidays.

Sertoma is an international organization that stands for SERvice TO MAnkind.

Westerville Sertoma

The Rudolph Walk/Run 5k is held before the annual Westerville Christmas Parade with the Sertoma Club. For runners, a Rudolph nose and Santa hat are included with registrations and is optional running apparel. The run sponsored by the Westerville Sertoma Club and the Columbus Running Company Charity Fund.

Runners start at 800 Brooksedge Blvd near Schrock Rd, head south and curve onto Heatherdown Dr. to State. Street (Route 3). Going left on State, runners continue on this main street through Old Westerville (uptown historic area) to St. Paul's Church at County Line Rd. Buses will be waiting to return runners to the starting line and their cars and.or to bring fresh clothing to the finish line.

The goal on the first Sunday in December at 1:00 PM is to have hundreds of Rudolphs running or walking ahead of Santa's parade to show him the way to the children of Westerville. Many family oriented activities will be on the docket and eateries and stores will be open for business. The Westerville Library is on the route, as is Half Price Books, and look for nearby churches to be having Christmas Gift sales. This is a good tradition to join!

show route and directions
A marker800 Brooksedge Blvd Westerville OH -
800 Brooksedge Blvd, Westerville, OH 43081, USA
get directions

B markerSt. Paul's Church, County Line Rd. Westerville OH -
St Pauls Church, Westerville, OH 43081, USA
get directions


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I miss the store and the air door. Columbus is not the same, is it?

    • profile image

      CarolS 5 years ago

      My mother used to take my brothers and I down to Lazarus every Christmas so we could see their display. Truly a time of joy and cheer for anyone who could participate, even with the cold winds blowing up Town St from the Scioto River, freezing mom so we couldn't stay out there and stare too long before we had to go through the "air door" to get inside and get warm. Loved that "air door" when my hands were full of shopping bags. Since I worked across the river at the health dept, I was in there several times a week looking at things... so enjoyed that store and the people who worked there who truly cared about their customers.

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

      Too bad the Lazarus store had to close. Many people today could benefit from a place with a heart to open to women and the handicapped. Voted and rated.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I enjoyed your hub with all the historical information and the video. Christmas never looses it magic. Thank you.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I like your historical background on these Christmas activities. The large department stores of various cities were the early version of today's "box" stores, I think.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Thank you for this Hub! Brings back memories...

    • schoolmarm profile image

      schoolmarm 7 years ago from Florida

      This sounds wonderful! I haven't been to a Christmas parade since I was a young child. You brought back a lot of memories, I think I will attend the nearest parade this year. Thanks!