Joske's, formerly also known as J. Joske, Joske Brothers, and J. Joske and Sons, was headquartered in San Antonio and once owned twenty-six retail stores in Texas and one in Phoenix, Arizona. Julius Joske, who immigrated to Texas from Germany in 1867, chose San Antonio as his home because of its access to Texas military installations, Indian areas, and Mexico. The choice was a strategic one; San Antonio was an important marketplace that supplied the outlying military posts with inventory and served as a trade link with Mexico. Joske's first store, located on Main Plaza in San Antonio and known as J. Joske, opened in 1867 and operated until 1873, when Joske sold it and went back to Berlin for his family. He returned to the Alamo City later that same year and with the help of his sons Siegfried, Albert, and Alexander opened a new store called J. Joske and Sons in the 800 block of Austin Street in a small adobe house close to the United States Army corral.
After two years the family moved the store to Alamo Plaza, not far from the Grand Opera House, and changed its name to Joske Brothers. In 1878 the operation expanded its space and added women's merchandise, and in 1887 the store moved to an even bigger facility at the corner of Alamo and Commerce streets. Joske's personnel grew from three to thirty-five at a time when San Antonio's population was 25,000.
In 1903 Alexander Joske purchased his father's and brothers' interest in the company, and in 1909 he once again expanded both the Commerce Street location and its product line. At the time, the store's merchandise was primarily for men and boys; the expansion increased the piece-goods department so ladies could have dresses made in the store after selecting patterns and materials. The Commerce Street expansion added elevators and new floors, and established customer-service departments, delivery services, and promotional gimmicks to attract public attention. One such promotion was a 3,000 candle-power searchlight used to highlight the store; in 1922 the light was used to guide Lt. James H. Doolittle of Kelly Field to a safe landing.
After Alexander Joske died, Dr. Frederic Goldstein Oppenheimer, Alexander's son-in-law, became the firm's president in 1925. Four years later Hahn Department Stores purchased Joske's, and in 1932 it was taken over by Allied Stores Corporation. James H. Calvert went to San Antonio from Boston to assume the presidency of Joske's of Texas and held the position until he retired in 1964. Calvert, an English native, had been an officer of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and went to Boston in 1920 to learn about department stores. Before coming to Joske's, he had been a merchandise manager for Jordan Marsh, an Allied Stores affiliate and one of the largest and oldest stores in New England.
At the time, Joske's Commerce Street location was on the fringe of the business district. Calvert resisted opening new locations downtown and expanding the store to the suburbs, deciding instead to let customers come to the Alamo Plaza location. He also spearheaded the acquisition of such additional properties as the Plaza Theater and the rest of the Joske square block (excluding St. Joseph's Church, sometimes jokingly called St. Joske's) in order to increase the size of the store and alleviate parking problems. Calvert instigated two major expansion projects: the addition that made Joske's the first completely air-conditioned store in Texas, and an addition of 100,000 square feet after the Conroy building on Alamo Street had been torn down in 1939. Joske's eventually added equivalent warehouse space in 1946, and a 1953 building program doubled the store's size to 551,000 square feet and added parking spaces to make twenty acres of parking. While the main store increased in size, the chain spread as well. In 1957 a Las Palmas store location opened to serve the western and southwestern sections of San Antonio; in 1965 the firm purchased Wolff and Marx (subsequently sold in 1968) with its North Star Mall branch; in 1969 Joske's opened a store under its own name in North Star Mall; and in 1971 Joske's opened a branch in Austin.
After Calvert retired in 1964, J. H. Morse took over the presidency, while Calvert remained chairman of the board. Morse, who joined Joske's in 1935 and had been a vice president since 1938, was responsible for beautification efforts at the city's HemisFair '68 grounds. After his retirement in 1968 he was succeeded by M. H. "Pat" Segner and then by the firm's first native Texas president, William W. McCormick, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, who, like Segner, began his career with the Allied Stores Company. Under McCormick, Joske’s reached its largest size with the addition of stores in Corpus Christi and El Paso plus Phoenix, Arizona, as well as additional stores in San Antonio. In 1975, with stores reaching into the suburbs, McCormick and other civic leaders were concerned with a decrease in downtown commerce. Working with the group Downtown Inc., McCormick suggested stringing Christmas lights in the trees along the San Antonio River Walk, in addition to normally decorated buildings. That first year, Joske’s and Sears supplied the lights, and city maintenance workers provided the labor. Needless to say, this project has grown into a major event, drawing thousands of tourists to the River Walk during the Christmas season every year. Again working with the city and mall developers, in July 1980 McCormick and Allied Stores Corporation worked to have the San Antonio River extended north under Commerce Street to create Rivercenter Mall. Land for the mall and river turning basin was supplied by Allied Stores Corporation from the Joske’s parking lot, which was just east of Joske’s, and extending from Commerce Street north to Crockett Street.
Eventually, Allied Stores Corporation changed the names of its Tiche-Goettinger stores in Dallas to Joske's, making a total of twenty-seven outlets in Texas. In late 1986 the Campeau Corporation of Toronto, Canada, purchased Allied Stores Corporation, and in 1987 Dillard's Department Stores of Little Rock, Arkansas, bought the Joske operation from Campeau. All of the Joske stores were henceforth called Dillard's.
Throughout its history the Joske's chain remained an innovator in the retail industry by developing new approaches to advertising and product development. Alexander Joske, for example, often bought advertising space in the San Antonio dailies, in which he publicly expressed his thoughts. In one such article, he denied a rumor that he had discharged employees because they had voted a certain way in an election. Known as "the biggest store in the biggest state," Joske's was locally identified with its store sign depicting a cowboy on a horse chasing a running steer, designed by A. H. Cadwallader.
In response to a shortage of newspaper advertising caused by a postwar rationing of newsprint, the chain cosponsored the first definitive study of radio and television advertising. Joske's opened a 500-seat auditorium for civic-group meetings and special events and established the Camelia Award, for which the company commissioned original works of art by state and local artists to present annually to an outstanding fashion designer. The store also produced its own newsletter, The Joske Jabberwocky. In the community, Joske's is credited with introducing the nation's first teen-age beauty pageant, teen advisory boards, charity benefits, art exhibitions, Christmas events, Boy Scout activities, and Mexican-American trade and heritage events. Works of art collected by Frederic Joske Oppenheimer and his wife can be found in various Texas art museums.
Beginning in 1933 the company established the Joske’s Quarter Century Club to thank twenty-five-year employees with 25 percent discounts, jewelry, and free monthly breakfasts. The Joske’s Quarter Century Club continued to meet, and former employees gathered two or three times a year after the store’s closing. The club finally disbanded in 2012 and held its last meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Antonio on December 1, 2012. The Joske’s building (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) at Alamo and Commerce streets was purchased by Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corporation of New York in 2005 and vacated by Dillard’s in 2008. Renovations began in 2014 to transform the building into a mall-style venue, part of the “Shops at Rivercenter mall.” The interior was gutted, but the building’s Art Deco façade was restored. The building reopened in January 2016.