During the 1870s, conflicts arose among Mormon and non-Mormon businesses, resulting in the creation of ZCMI. The cooperative worked as early Mormon settlers invested in a cooperative merchandising effort to manufacture, acquire and sell goods to one another and share in the profits. Rather than employ the use of cash registers, customers followed the honor system and placed money in large, black kettles that were emptied and counted once they were full. to steal from the cooperative was nearly unthinkable for members owing to their deeply-held religious beliefs and the fact that many customers were also investor-owners.
Non-Mormon businesses regularly compared the ZCMI cooperative program to an unfair retail monopoly. Indeed, a few early founders of The Salt Lake Tribune lost their church membership after siding with Gentile (non-members) in a local dispute. At this time, church leaders made it clear that they would excommunicate those who did not actively support the store.
In 1973, plans to create a mall near ZCMI resulted in a plan to restore the decaying facade. Steven T. Baird, a young preservation architect, was commissioned to complete the project. Regarded as the first restoration of a cast-iron facade in American history, Baird's research on classic architectural cast iron architecture inspired several other inner-city developments. The project's success allowed Baird and his team to develop Historical Arts & Casting, Inc., a firm dedicated to keeping alive the history, tradition, and craftsmanship of architectural cast metal ornament.
In 1999, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) sold off its majority stock in ZCMI. For a short time, stores operated under the Meier & Frank name but later switched to Macy's. In 2007, the ZCMI cast iron facade was disassembled and stored before demolition and excavation for a new twenty acre commercial and residential development, City Creek Center, which was financed by the LDS (Mormon) Church. The Macy's store existed as part of that project, and the facade was placed on its storefront. Though the chain of stores is no more, its legacy remains with the restoration of the facade, notably as the ZCMI name remains atop the ornate feature.