When Samuel Posner moved his successful dry goods business to the corner of Lexington and Howard, architect Charles E. Cassell's gorgeous and ornate white Renaissance Revival building—complete with roaring lions and majestic wreaths and fluted columns—made a grand addition to the growing row of department store "palaces" on Howard Street in 1899.
The building played a prominent role in Baltimore's turn-of-the-century transition from smaller, specialized retailers to large, purpose-built department stores. Like many department stores across the country, Stewart's strove to provide a wide range of high quality goods to America's rising middle class and lured customers with its open layout, enticing displays, large plate glass windows, and by being, among other things, the first Howard Street store to install air conditioning in 1931.
Though the Stewart's name, etched in block letters at the building's crest, is still visible today, the store's ownership history is a bit less permanent. Within little over a year of the store's opening, The Baltimore Sun reported that Samuel Posner had sold the business to Louis Stewart and the Associated Merchants' Company (AMC), most likely as a result of financial difficulties resulting from high construction costs. Louis Stewart's turn at the helm of store was brief, too: in 1916 Stewart's was absorbed into a new firm, the Associated Dry Goods corporation (ADG), which consolidated several major U.S. retailing chains, including Lord & Taylor and J. McCreery's.
Many Baltimoreans have fond memories of shopping at Stewarts and recall making day-long excursions to the store. Stewart's, according to local columnist, Jacques Kelly, had "...an excellent men's furnishing department – ties and sweaters" and a wonderful selection of "... china and silver" and "yard good (dressmaking materials)." A high-class store with an elegant interior, Stewart's boasted two restaurants—the Georgian Tea Room and Cook Works—both popular with shoppers, as were the delicious vanilla marshmallow treats sold at the store's candy counter.
Stewart's opened their first suburban outlet on York Road in Towson in 1953 and several other suburban stores shortly thereafter. When the flagship store at Howard and Lexington closed in 1979, Stewart's held a week-long closing sale that brought in thousands of bargain-hungry shoppers. Stewart's was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and in 2007 Catholic Relief Services opened their offices in the first floor of the building.