The Rise and Fall of the Hickey Brothers

In 1901, William Hickey and his kid brother Dennis pooled their savings and opened a little cigar store at 123 East Third Street.

It did pretty well.

So well, in fact, that in five years, they opened a second store at 424 Brady Street.  And in ten, they were operating a beautiful stand at the Kimball Hotel and a fourth location at the corner of Third and Brady.

And then the brothers rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

Hickey No 8In 1917, Hickey Store No. 8 was built on Second and Brady, and it was a beauty.  There were lunch counters and a commissary in the basement, neon lights for the evening shoppers—even air conditioning, the first building in Davenport to offer such comfort.  Bill Hickey took personal interest in the running of No. 8, promising superlative customer service and guaranteeing that if you weren’t thanked for your business, your purchase was on the house.

Hickey Brothers soon expanded outside of the Quad-Cities, opening stores in fine hotels in Chicago and New York, and eventually boasted at least one store in sixty-eight cities and nineteen states.  In 1943, Store No. 66 opened in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana.

An Iowa cigar store in Cuba—who would have guessed it?

Employees in the eventual 150-store company were expected to do a full, hard day’s work for their wages, but there appeared to be very little turnover—some workers started right out of high school and stayed with the company for decades out of loyalty.

Customers were loyal, too.  The merchandise was varied and of the best quality for the discerning gentleman: cigars, pipes, tobaccos, candies, electric shavers, stationery, cards, and newspapers from around the country.

William HickeyBill Hickey was director of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America for over a decade and was elected president  in 1949.  By Hickey Brother’s fiftieth anniversary, it was the third largest retail cigar company and had a big percentage of the wholesale tobacco business in the Midwest.

However, times were changing, as they do, and the pre-World War business practices that had sent Hickey Brothers flying high—expansion, buying and employment policies, etc.—were eventually their downfall.

William Hickey invested more than $350,000 of his own money in order to keep the company running, but was forced to declare bankruptcy.  The company announced its closing on March 10, 1957, and closed its last store nine days later, to the shock of Davenport customers, for whom the stores had been a backdrop and mainstay almost all of their lives.
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Sources used:

Farber, Glyn.  Hickey Brothers Cigar Store Tokens. [Lake Mary, Fla.: Token and Medal Society], 1992.

Svendsen, Marlys.  Davenport: A Pictorial History. [SN, sl: G. Bradley Publishing Co.], 1985.

Wundram, Bill.  A Time We Remember. [Davenport, Iowa: Quad-City Times], 1999.

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