Denver has had its fair share of landmark furniture stores. There is the obvious American Furniture Warehouse, still going today. We've highlighted American Furniture Company, which lasted from 1898 to 1974 and was an early leader in employee relations. But do you know Davis & Shaw Furniture Company? This even longer-running Denver business (over a century!) helped to shape the city’s business history and its nightscape.
Davis & Shaw Furniture Company was started as a joint venture of Fred Davis and Peter W. Shaw in 1900. Davis was a farm boy from Iowa and Shaw was born and educated in Birmingham, England. The two opened a store at 1454 Larimer Street and advertised their wares for the Denver every-man. Much like furniture stores of today, they promised that they were “not in the ‘high price clique’” and offered furniture rentals and accounts with “no money down.”
In 1908, Davis & Shaw moved to the the Pioneer Building at the corner of 15th and Larimer and their advertising ambitions grew exponentially. Perhaps one of the most recognizable bits of Davis & Shaw history is the large electric sign that extended from the top of the store. According to a Denver Times article, the sign was born out of a buying trip that Fred Davis made to Chicago, where he saw an electrically animated sign for the White City. While finding a Chicago firm to make the sign proved too expensive, the Ellis Electrical Sign company of Denver was up for the challenge.
The letters in "Davis & Shaw" were six feet high on a framework of steel and iron, and the hundreds of light sockets had to be shipped in from "an Eastern factory." Luckily, the light show was worth it. A 1910 Denver Municipal Facts article promised that it was so successful in drawing attention, the firm was looking into a “new [sign] that [would] extend from the street to the roof of the building and represent the upward shoot of a rocket." Though there is no evidence that this plan came to fruition, the sign was eventually replaced by an even larger display of a woman in a rocking chair.
The business reached sales of about $1 million in 1920 and Davis & Shaw welcomed Davis’s brother-in-law Richard E. Pate into the fold. Shaw died in 1922 and within a few years, Davis sold his interest to Pate, who continued to sell furniture under Davis & Shaw Furniture Company. The store moved to Champa Street, leaving the Pioneer Building to Davis, who opened a new firm, the Fred Davis Furniture Company.
Meanwhile, Davis & Shaw suffered a major loss in 1948, when a fire swept through their downtown warehouse, doing nearly $500,000 in damage. However, the company persevered and stayed in the family, despite changing hands over the next half-century. In 2005, its final owners closed the store and sold the Champa Street building to developer Randy Nichols. Even so, over 100 years of sales and two very important buildings makes Davis & Shaw a landmark Denver business.
Do you have a Davis & Shaw or Fred Davis furniture piece in your home? Are you interested in learning more about these Denver businesses? Much of the information in this blog was tracked down through our Western History Subject Index and local newspapers. You can also take a look at some of Fred Davis’s correspondence or a Davis & Shaw Furniture Company catalog here in Western History and Genealogy.