/SPECIAL FOR THE AJT//
The Breman Museum celebrates the history of a great store and a great city in the exhibition “Return to Rich’s: The Story Behind the Store.” The show opens Sun., Nov. 17, and promises memories of Atlanta’s iconic institution while tracing the momentous events that shaped the city.
“Rich’s was much more than a place to shop,” said Aaron Berger, executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum (The Breman). “During its 138-year history, the store had a significant influence upon Atlanta and its residents. This exhibition portrays those years and the major events that shaped Atlanta, such as the Civil Rights Movement.”
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The exhibition, during its run through May 27, will showcase Rich’s in a variety of photographs and artifacts of the store, and in stories from customers, employees and leaders of Atlanta.
“The stories play a major role in this exhibition,” Berger said. “While people will come to see the Pink Pig and the array of other artifacts, the show is about more than iconic objects. It is about the stories people tell, the feelings and intangible parts of Rich’s that people will come to reconnect with in an environment where they can relive their Rich’s experiences.”
“The story of Rich’s begins as a story of Jewish immigration from Hungary and evolves into a great story of American entrepreneurship, civic engagement and retail innovation,” explained guest curator Dr. Catherine Lewis of Kennesaw State University.
The store was established by Jewish immigrant Morris Rich as M. Rich & Co. in 1867 when Atlanta was rebuilding after the Civil War. Rich’s grew into a successful enterprise and was well known for its customer service, credit and return policies, and its generous donations to charitable organizations in the city.
Today The Rich Foundation continues this tradition through its contributions to non-profit organizations throughout metro Atlanta.
It was the Civil Rights Movement that brought national attention to the Rich’s stores in Atlanta and Knoxville. During a sit-in in October 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested trying to enter the downtown Atlanta store’s Magnolia Room.
“We knew in Atlanta that if Rich’s went, so would everybody else,” Civil Rights leader Julian Bond said.
The difficult period will be retold in the words of Lonnie King and others. Lonnie King led student sit-ins and protests that ultimately helped bring about the desegregation of Rich’s and other stores in Atlanta.
Visitors will find that the exhibition has interactive touch points. And already, Rich’s devotees can share their memories on ReturnToRichs.org.
Some other popular features and facts about Rich’s included in the exhibition:
- The Pink Pig started in the mid-1950s as the Snowball Express and had several other names in the early years. The ride was discontinued in 1964, but public sentiment was quite vocal and the Pink Pig was quickly brought back to life. Percival, one of the two original Pink Pigs will be on display.
- Rich’s Fashionata brought world-class fashion designers to Atlanta from the 1940s and ’50s through 1994.
- Rich’s bought and donated the license for WABE FM, the radio station of the Atlanta Public Schools.
- There is the Great Tree, Atlanta’s symbolic Christmas tree tradition, which began in 1948 and usually stood around 60-feet tall.
- The Magnolia Room used to host “Spend the Day” parties, which women from around the Southeast traveled to Atlanta to attend.
- The exhibition also will offer something for the whole family in interactive photo opportunities with Percival, one of the original Pink Pigs, and the famous Rich’s clock.
- There is also a collection of Return to Rich’s merchandise in the museum store.
- The museum will “reinvent” Fashionata and have a “Spend the Day” teas among other programs during the exhibition’s run.