One of the privately owned specialty shops in the early Dayton's department store was the "Helen" Shop. Run by sisters, Helen, Belle and Marie Gjertsen, this dressmaking shop opened in 1906 and operated until at least 1923. Miss Helen "contrived gowns of the greatest complexity to be worn to the [annual] Hostesses' Ball."
The Gjertsen family immigrated to the Midwest from Norway in 1866 and settled in Watonwan County, Minnesota. Typical of many young farm women, sisters Marie, Belle, Helen, Anna, Lisa, Julie, and Georgia all moved to Minneapolis for employment. At various times they either worked as seamstresses for other dressmakers or worked as dressmakers, fiteres, buyers or bookkeepers in the Helen Shop.
Helen and Anna worked for Lina Christianson, another prominent dressmaker in Minneapolis, until her business closed in 1902. Marie and Belle were later joined by their sisters Lisa and Julie. During the 1930s and 1940s, Helen operated out of the Curtis Hotel, a fashionable residence in downtown Minneapolis.
In the 1920s Helen, Lisa, Belle and Julia traveled to Europe on buying trips. “The Misses Lisa M. Gjertsen and Julia Gjertsen will go as buyers of suits, coats and furs for our firm to London and Paris, Sincerely Miss Helen.” Helen’s buying trips are documented by her passport applications and ships' passenger lists between 1905 to 1938. In some years, she traveled in spring and fall indicating an extensive business that resulted in importing model garments to either sell directly to her clients or create copies to resell.See images of clothing from her business