The Pre-Pioneer Days in #DowntownWPB

This guest post was written by Live WPB’s Jud Whitehorn, and a similar version was originally featured on the Live WPB blog.

Pioneer Linens has been a staple in Downtown West Palm Beach practically forever. Practically is an important word in that sentence. Before 210 Clematis Street housed one of our most luxurious linen shops, it was home to a pioneer in the retail clothing industry. Our friend Jud Whitehorn at Live WPB took some time to dig into the history of that previous tenant and its founders, who proved to be important figures in shaping the #DowntownWPB we know and love today.

Edmars

Folks who know anything about the history of Clematis Street and the downtown West Palm Beach area know that Pioneer Linens has been around for a very long time. Pioneer moved to Clematis Street – then called Clematis Avenue – in 1931, having already established itself as a successful enterprise elsewhere in town. The store would move up and down the block over the next two decades, eventually settling on its current Clematis location. Before their impressive 63-year run in the building, there were others who enjoyed success in that very same Clematis space.

In 1921, the Edmar Clothing Company, Inc., opened its doors at 212 Clematis Avenue. Known by the more catchy moniker Edmar’s, the upscale clothing store, which advertised itself as “Smart Apparel: Styled for the Palm Beaches,” was founded by two locals who had already established themselves in the clothing industry. James Edwin (Ed) Baker and Martin (Mar) Brewer took over what had previously been a shoe shop in that summer of ’21, and rapidly grew it into a thriving business. By offering good quality at reasonable prices, they catered not only to the local population, but to incoming tourists who sought to capture the lifestyle they hoped to encounter here. By the end of that first year, Edwin and Martin had to hire extra help to meet the demand of their loyal customer base, and by 1925 they had “departmentalized,” hiring different managers to handle the different offerings in their store. They also regularly sent scouts to other markets along the west coast, to observe other fashion trends and methods of doing business. As a consequence, they became known as more than just a store that offered current trends. . .  They were a store responsible for creating those trends.

Though Edmar’s thrived throughout most of the 1920s, its success would sadly not last. The store’s ultimate demise can probably be linked back, at least in part, to the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, which struck near West Palm Beach on September 17, 1928. The category 5 storm slammed into the east coast of Florida, devastating sections of West Palm Beach and many of the businesses in it.  Before the city could recoil from the massive property damage, the Great Depression took hold. Not unlike many businesses in the area, Edmar’s fell into bankruptcy, and the assets of the store were sold off in October of 1930. Pioneer Linens would move into the old Edmar’s space in October of 1931, and they’ve been there ever since.

Unlike his partner, former Edmar’s founder Martin Brewer lived a comparatively quiet life. Not much was written about him after Edmar’s closed. Edwin Baker’s story, however, was quite perhaps more publicly notable. Edwin was raised in this area, when it was still considered Dade County, and his father would become the first Sheriff of Palm Beach County. Edwin himself would go on to serve in the military, and spent time on a destroyer in World War I. Upon completion of his military service, he returned to Palm Beach County and would enter the clothing business, ultimately culminating in the founding of Edmar’s.  After Edmar’s closed, Edwin’s career in the public sector would resume when he would serve as a state senator in Lake County for many years. His untimely death occurred in 1963 when he was just 63 years of age.

So next time you’re popping into Pioneer Linens, or even passing by on your way to Rocco’s Tacos or Bar Louie, take a moment to ponder Edwin and Martin, two of Clematis’ other pioneers.