It’s now known as the Nancy S. Grasmick Building in honor of the former superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education. But for generations, the edifice at the corner of West Baltimore and Liberty streets was known as the Baltimore Bargain House.

Founded in 1881, the Baltimore Bargain House was a mail-order wholesale business created by Lithuanian-born Jacob Epstein (1864-1945), a rags-to-riches Jewish merchant, businessman and civic leader. Employing more than 1,000 people, the block-long Baltimore Bargain House building, which was constructed in 1911, became a hub for itinerant Jewish immigrant merchants throughout the South.

In addition to the Baltimore Bargain House, Epstein is considered Baltimore Jewry’s most prominent philanthropist and lay leader for the first half of the 20th century. He played a major role in the Federated Jewish Charities and the United Hebrew Charities, predecessors to what is now known as The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. He also helped establish the Baltimore Museum of Art and raised funds for the establishment of the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.

In this video, Johns W. Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, offers a concise history of Jacob Epstein and the Baltimore Bargain House.