For many immigrants throughout the 1800s, the United States seemed to be a land filled with promise. Texas, in particular, appeared to be a place where dreams could be fulfilled. Otto Monnig, a Prussian immigrant to Missouri, believed this to be true. In 1870, Monnig opened a Family General Store in Gasconade County, Missouri, where he sold clothing, toys, and groceries, while also running a drugstore and post office. This business venture served as a precursor for what was to come for the Monnig family. In April 1889, after sending his son William Monnig to assess business prospects in Texas, he decided to open Monnig’s Dry Goods and Hardware Store in Fort Worth, the fifth largest city in Texas.
For the Monnigs, the promise of a better life held true. Business boomed. In fact, on opening day, Monnig’s department store brought in $44—over $1,000 today. The enterprise continued to expand its inventory and remained in competition against other notable Texas businesses like Cox’s. In 1900, after investing in bulk merchandise, their business model expanded, and they also entered the wholesale dry goods business. The retail and wholesale divisions continued successfully, and the business opened locations across the state, including one in an up-and-coming Texas city: Waco.
Otto Edward Monnig supervised the expansion project, following in his father’s and uncle’s footsteps. Though he had lived in Waco and since moved to California, his wife convinced him to return. That advice proved sound as he became the operator of Monnig’s in Waco, growing the business and its inventory.
The first Waco location opened in 1932 on Fifth and Washington, continuing the retail and wholesale model. Monnig’s, branded as “the Friendly Store,” now offered more than dry goods and hardware. The store sold clothes, groceries, toys, beauty products, candy, and flowers, and still maintained their wholesale business. Customers who could not make it to the store had the option to call a “Miss Shopper,” an employee who could shop for needed items and ensure their delivery. With an abundance of merchandise and a growing retail division, the Monnigs decided to open an additional location in town.
The new Monnig’s opened at 604 Austin Avenue on August 27, 1936. While the Waco department store branched out into the downtown area, the grocery division remained at the old location, 120 North Fifth Street. This new location offered an extensive variety of clothing, furniture, and other retail items. After leasing the Horne Building, the business dedicated the 60-by-165-feet ground level to merchandise alone. The second floor remained utilized as storage space for wholesale materials.
Thrilled at the department store’s expansion, Wacoans rushed out to opening day. Multiple local businesses endorsed Monnig’s, including The First National Bank of Waco and Mailander & Company, who aided in the three-month remodeling process. The store expected such an influx of people that they opened at nine o’clock in the morning, rather than eight thirty, to ensure that employees could prepare for the rush.
Though Monnig’s survived the historic 1953 Waco tornado and nationally vexing financial periods, the business eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1988. Monnig’s department stores across Texas closed their doors, and in 1989, Chrysler Technologies Airborne Systems (CTAS) occupied the old Monnig’s building at Seventh and Austin. By 1990, bankruptcy resulted in the closing of all seven Monnig’s locations across Texas. Still, many Wacoans reflected fondly on the local store during its decades of success. While Monnig’s opened business because of the opportunities Texas offered, the Waco department store promised a new future for the downtown area and the city more broadly.