Where Macy’s got its modest start

$11.06. That amount was reportedly what Rowland Hussey Macy earned on the first day his new dry-goods store opened for business in a small building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street in 1858.

MacysBut after that slow start, the R.H. Macy store began grossing tens of thousands of dollars a year. It became a full-fledged department store in 1877 and eventually occupied many storefronts along West 14th Street (like the one in the photo at left).

Fourteenth Street was a more upscale shopping district at the end of the 19th century. But even then, department store moguls could see that the future of retail was farther uptown. 

So in 1902, Macy’s packed it up and relocated to a colossal new store at Herald Square on 34th Street—its current quarters today.

This weekend, Macy’s is sponsoring its 33rd annual Fireworks Spectacular, this time over the Hudson River. Macy’s pledged the first show as a tribute to America’s Bicentennial, and it quickly morphed into an Independence Day tradition.

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9 Responses to “Where Macy’s got its modest start”

  1. Driving Us Nuts With Text Messages - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] By 1877, it became a full-fledged department store and eventually took up much of West 14th with shops like this one. [Ephemeral New York] The 72-year-old driver that hit and killed the bicyclist Camille Savoy, 54, [...]

  2. petey Says:

    i understand that that building still has the red star above the door, which was macy’s tattoo from his seafaring days.

    • Peter Bennett Says:

      It is still there, but is now hidden behind a store sign, that I’m sure the new owner was unaware of. BTW the star was a tattoo that Macy got when he was a whaler. Up until a few years ago an old painted Macys ad was still visible on the side of the building near it’s roof. It was only visible from the NE corner of 15th st and 6th ave.

  3. Brad Says:

    Near the turn of the century, the consumer was becoming a more important part of the American economy. People began to make more money, and had the ability to spend it especially in large cities such as New York. In concentrated urban areas it was easy to find places to shop and to spend one’s money. Many people were spending their money on clothing. Also, at that time, stores appealed to women because they were the primary consumers. In addition, the idea of a department store was created and Macy’s was one of the original department stores. Another one of the original department stores was Sears, which is also a well-known store today. In addition to Sears was Lord and Taylor. It is interesting to note that Macy felt that the future of sales was uptown, so he moved his store to thirty-fourth street, although Manhattan was extremely overpopulated downtown. Perhaps it was because more wealthy people were living further uptown than downtown, so he relocated his store uptown to be closer to the wealthy consumers. This move occurred in 1902, and the original building on thirty-fourth street was only on Broadway. Later, the store expanded to Seventh Avenue, making it the world’s largest store with over one million square feet of retail space. It is also interesting that around the time that Macy’s was formed, Independence Day was declared a national holiday. It’s fitting that Macys now commemorates Independence Day with their annual fireworks show. The founder of Macy’s, R.H. Macy was in a sense a self-made man and he succeeded in creating an extremely successful department store after several failed attempts. Macy’s is now a publicly traded company and is now worth in excess of $9 billion!

  4. The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] all started around 1900, when Macy’s, then located on West 14th Street, began buying land in Herald Square for its huge new shopping [...]

  5. Annika K. Martin Says:

    OMG its start was even smaller before that! The Macy family were original settlers of Nantucket Island, and started a dry goods store there at the top of main street (now called Murray’s Toggery Shop). One of the Macy (brothers? sons?) moved to NY and the rest is history.

  6. A 19th century pickpocket fleeces New York City « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] that year, she was caught stealing a pocketbook from a female shopper at Macy’s, then on West 14th Street (at left) and booked for theft at Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth [...]

  7. mitzanna Says:

    I found this photo of the first Macy’s on 6th Ave & 14th St. in an old Museum of the City of NY publication from 1961. Looks like a few years after the above photo as Macy’s expanded, but before they moved across the street which is usually erroneously mentioned as the very first Macy’s in NYC. This looks like the present day Sol Moscot store on north east corner. So the foundation is still there…

  8. The 13th Street building that used to be Macy’s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] It was one of 11 buildings the R.H. Macy Company constructed near the original Macy’s Dry Goods Store on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, which opened in 1858. […]

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