About the Collection




“So, do you know anyone who might be interested in taking a look at our basement archives?”

Terry Saunders, owner of A. Schwab Dry Goods


Caroline Carrico explores the first box opened in the A. Schwab Archive – a box of 1930s documents. Digital ID ASC1328

In the summer of 2021, Terry Saunders, owner of A. Schwab Dry Goods, posed a question to StoryBoard’s Executive Director Mark Fleischer about the prospects of curating the store’s vast collection of materials and documents stored in boxes in the store’s basement. Her question also became the roots of this massive, years-long project to collect, scan, curate, and archive over a hundred years of history, and, just as importantly, to capture the numerous threads of stories out of the collection. 

From that conversation, StoryBoard Memphis approached the library to discuss a potential partnership. While the vast collection of archival material would remain onsite at the store, representatives from the Memphis and Shelby Country Room, along with the library’s Virtual Digital Team, recognized the value of providing broader digital access to the treasures found within the A. Schwab basement. 

With the assistance and support of the library, the store itself, and a grant from Humanities Tennessee, StoryBoard Memphis began a years-long process to open each box, sort through its contents – an archivist’s dream! – and start the process of documenting, scanning, and digitizing the massive collection. 

After a year of scanning and processing the first batch of items, we’re now ready to unveil the digital A. Schwab Collection on DIG Memphis!

Containing over 4,000 unique items, the collection, as it stands now, is still in its infancy. Only a small fraction of the 130+ boxes of materials have been scanned and digitized – we have a long way to go. But from the materials digitized so far, we have already established the foundations of the broad picture showing the vast influences and connections the A. Schwab Dry Goods store has to Beale Street, to Memphis, to the Mid-South region, and to the history of the United States.  

Here we have evidence and the roots of stories that deepen our understanding of everyday people during the Great Depression, the early days of selling Blues Records, how the world of retail worked in the early 20th Century, and how this little store, established by a Jewish immigrant on “Black Main Street,” became a racially integrated proprietorship through the heights of the Jim Crow era. The archival material also illuminates how Abe Schwab himself was a focal point in saving all of Beale Street in 1960s, from urban renewal bulldozers. All of this from a two-story building at 163 Beale Street, and it’s all here in the archives, waiting for more discoveries!

To begin your exploration into the archive, visit the Collection Homepage to view some of the thematic features we’ve pulled together, or click below to browse the entire collection!

Explore the Collection

Caroline Carrico, left, and Elliott Schwab, center, determine which box to remove first in the A. Schwab Archive. Digital ID: ASC1330

Want to hear more about the origins of the A. Schwab Collection? Click to listen to Episode 68 of the StoryBoard 30 podcast. Recorded upstairs in the events space at A. Schwab, at 163 Beale Street, Memphis, TN, in December of 2021.