Longtime Younkers shopper reflects on fire

When the building that was the former home of the Younkers flagship store in Des Moines caught fire March 29, nine decades of memories went up in smoke for Marshalltown resident Mary Gift.

Gift, who grew up in Des Moines and turns 93 years old next week, said the store was a family tradition for more than six generations.

“It was a very sad day because a lot of memories burnt up with it,” Gift said.

Gift’s stories go back to when she was 2 years old and got lost in the Younkers store.

“They had cops out looking for me,” she said.

Just as her grandparents instilled a Younkers tradition in her, Gift continued to pass along that same tradition to her daughter Judy and her grandson, Mick Jurgensen.

She particularly remembers countless visits to the Tea Room.

“That’s where grandma always took everybody,” Gift said. “It was the place to take people from out of town and in town.”

She remembers the escalator, known as electric stairs, installed in 1939. She also remembers being photographed at the photo studio in the basement.

“It was my favorite store,” Gift said. “It just was the main department store to go to.”

The Younkers building closed in 2005 and was being remodeled when it was destroyed by the fire. The incident remains under investigation.

She said Younkers is so much a part of her family that she devoted 10 pages about the store in a book she wrote about her life.

Gift has continued to shop at other Younkers stores in the state but none have the memories of the flagship store.

“It was a tradition, a passion for Younkers and it remains that way,” Gift said.