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M.M. Cohn: A retail powerhouse that spanned 3 centuries

June 18, 2023 at 2:35 a.m.
Groundbreaking for M. M. Cohn Company at 506 South Main Street in Little Rock (Pulaski County); 1940. (Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System)

The M.M. Cohn Co. was a regional department store chain based in Little Rock with stores in Arkansas and adjacent states. It was family owned and operated from its opening in 1874 until 1989, when the company was sold to a regional chain, The Dunlap Co., based in Texas. All M.M. Cohn stores closed in 2007 as a result of the liquidation of the new owner. During its heyday, however, M.M. Cohn was well-known throughout the state for its retail excellence.

The titular M.M. Cohn was originally named Kaminski or Kuhn and was born in Krakow, Poland, around 1845. He later changed his name to Mark Mathias Cohn. Cohn had lived in Cincinnati before moving to Arkansas and opening a store in 1874 in Arkadelphia. He moved to Little Rock, where he opened a store at 102 Main St. By 1883, the Little Rock business was well established, and it was written that "none occupy a more prominent position ... than the establishment founded by Mr. M.M. Cohn."

The store moved in 1898 to a location between Third and Fourth on Main Street. That year, Cohn's son Albert Daniel Cohn, who was an engineer, resigned from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and joined the firm. In 1912, Albert became the president of the store, succeeding his father. Because of poor health, however, he was not active for many years and died in 1926. His widow, Marcuse Stifft Cohn, inherited the store.

Albert and Marcuse Cohn had two daughters, Miriam and Raida. In 1926, Miriam married Arthur Norwin Phillips, who joined the company and assumed management responsibilities. Raida married Harry William Pfeifer Jr. in 1931, and he joined his brother-in-law in the management of the store. The two husbands each had prior retail experience at other local department stores, and eventually the two couples acquired ownership from the sisters' mother, Marcuse Cohn.

In 1940, Phillips and Pfeifer moved the store to a new 75,000-square-foot, five-story building the company constructed on Main Street between Fifth (Capitol Avenue) and Sixth Streets. This was adjacent to the Boyle Building, a high-rise office building. The building and store interior were of the latest modern design with an attractive Art Deco façade, and it may have been the first major building in Little Rock to be air conditioned. The store, noted for its high-quality merchandise, was described as "the Neiman Marcus of Arkansas."

In the 1960s, three of M.M. Cohn's great-grandsons, who were already employed with the company, began assuming management of the store. Arthur and Miriam Phillips' sons Albert Daniel "Dan" Phillips and Arthur Norwin "Tad" Phillips Jr., along with Harry and Raida Pfeifer's son Harry Donald "Don" Pfeifer, became the management team, with Dan becoming president in 1969. The new team expanded the company into a regional operation.

The Main Street store was significantly expanded by taking over five floors of the adjacent Boyle Building. A new store was built in 1967 in the University Mall on South University Avenue in Little Rock. The store was successful and was later enlarged to include a second floor. In 1973, a store was opened in McCain Mall in North Little Rock. The company purchased the Samples Department Store in El Dorado, and all future expansion was by acquisition only. This included the purchase of three John Gerber Department Stores in Memphis, and, later, stores in Oklahoma. Eventually, the Cohn company owned 13 stores in the three states.

In addition to the retail business, the company developed data processing software for inventory management. This became a separate business that provided the service to other retailers nationwide.

In 1989, the stores and computer business were sold. The Dunlap Co. of Fort Worth bought the stores and continued operating them under the Cohn name. Dunlap incurred financial problems and was forced into liquidation in 2007. All of its stores were closed that year, ending the 133-year, four-generation history of M.M. Cohn Co.

– W.W. Satterfield

This story is adapted by Guy Lancaster from the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System. Visit the site at

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