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Palmer's road to wealth

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Customers of Potter Palmer’s dry goods store on Lake Street in 1852 found a gem of a store. Potter Palmer and Company marketed to women and encouraged buyers to inspect merchandise at home before they purchased it. The company instituted a return policy that allowed consumers to return goods without question. He installed large windows with elaborate displays and provided price comparisons. Chicagoans loved these amazing goodwill policies, and store sales rose to $73,000.

With the money Palmer earned, he purchased real estate on State Street. He wanted it to be Chicago’s main street. Within six months, he owned ¾ mile of frontage property on the street. He succeeded in obtaining the support of the city council, and had State Street widened.

In the late 1850s, tensions between the northern and southern states were rapidly increasing. Palmer wisely predicted that cotton and wool would be necessary commodities if a war started. He used his retail and real estate profits to purchase substantial quantities of cotton and woolen products. He built warehouses to store these items in Chicago. When prices of cotton and woolen goods skyrocketed during the Civil War, Palmer sold his goods and cleared $2.5 million by the end of the war.

All of Palmer’s hard work caused his health to suffer. At the age of 39, he became seriously ill. His doctors advised him to limit his business activities. He sensibly followed their advice and acquired business partners, Marshall Field and Levi L. Leiter, to assist him in his retail business. The new company was named Field, Palmer, Leiter and Company. In 1867, he sold his share of this company and concentrated on building buildings and buying, selling and leasing property.

To be continued…

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