Professional and Retail

Historic Shelden Avenue was a patchwork of Houghton’s core retail and professional businesses. There was little one could not purchase from retail shops along the five blocks east of the bridge. Drugstores, furniture shops, milliners, hardware and general stores, tobacconists, confectioners, tailors, jewelers, groceries, barbershops – each provided goods and services to countless thousands over the years, as well as investment opportunities for entrepreneurs and employment for local residents.

Commercial buildings along Shelden Avenue usually served multiple functions, bringing together both retail and professional businesses. Street-level spaces housed retail operations, with large plate glass display windows luring passing shoppers and tiny prism glass redirecting natural sunlight into store interiors. Upper floors – with smaller double-hung or bay windows – provided professional office space and comfortable residential apartments.

The Shelden-Dee block was a good example of a multipurpose commercial structure. Built in 1900, the building was divided into four retail stores on the first floor and suites of offices on the second and third floors. In its century of use, it has been home for everything from drugstores to music shops, from mining company corporate offices to medical practices. Tenants viewed their quarters in such buildings as an appropriate place for first-rate professional offices and businesses. The brokerage office of Paine, Webber and Company, for instance, rented space in the Shelden-Dee.

Several similar multipurpose buildings are located near the intersection of Shelden Avenue and Isle Royale Street. The Houghton National Bank building, built in 1889, provided upper-floor office space to groups as diverse as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a Houghton law practice, and the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. Just below the bank on Isle Royale Street, the city’s newspaper, The Daily Mining Gazette, constructed a beautiful sandstone building in 1900. The paper’s printing operations were housed on the upper floors, while a hardware store and the village post office occupied space at street level. Even the successful Douglass House Hotel offered retail and professional spaces for rent.

Houghton’s business district was a bustling place, though not necessarily a diverse one. Women, for example, found few significant employment opportunities in the city’s early decades. Men did most office and clerical work in the nineteenth century and although hotels, bakeries and restaurants often hired women, the work differed little from their traditional household work of cleaning, cooking and serving meals. A few women were able to find paid employment as nurses, typists, tutors or teachers. But while most of the city’s hairdressing, dressmaking and millinery shops were staffed by women, many were actually owned by men. More often for Houghton’s women, working outside the home meant working inside someone else’s home as a domestic worker -- or taking additional work in their own homes with paid boarders and extra laundry or sewing jobs.

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Houghton Co.Electric Light Co. employees
1930s