Archive for the ‘Defunct department stores’ Category

The cut-rate beginning of Barneys New York

March 24, 2011

Like Saks and Henri Bendel, Barneys New York has long been the epitome of a high-end fashion retailer.

Which makes these unabashedly low-end ads, found on a matchbook from the 1930s or 1940s, all the more interesting.

Seems that luxury department store Barneys was once bargain basement Barney’s, a menswear store openly hawking factory rejects, auction stocks, and showroom models.

Launched by Barney Pressman in 1923, the store began as a 200-foot hole in the wall on Seventh Avenue at 17th Street.

Barney may have been gimmicky, but he also sold quality—soon luring devoted clients to a part of Manhattan known more for its Irish pubs than clothing stores.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Barney’s son edged the store into the luxury realm.

In the 1970s, Barney’s added a women’s department; in the 1990s, the store (without the apostrophe) decamped the now-blocklong 17th Street store for the Upper East Side, where Barneys holds court today.

The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s

March 3, 2011

For decades it’s been hidden behind billboards or wrapped in a giant faux shopping bag. Many shoppers never even notice it.

But old photos reveal a five-story building (right, in 1906), sticking out like a sore thumb in front of the world’s most iconic department store.

Although Macy’s leases ad space on it, the five-story building has never been owned by the store and is one of the most famous “holdouts” in New York real estate history.

It all started around 1900, when Macy’s, then located on West 14th Street, began picking up land in Herald Square for its huge new shopping mecca.

Macy’s had a verbal agreement to buy a plot at the corner of 34th and Broadway. But an agent acting on behalf of rival department store Siegel-Cooper scored the plot instead.

Reportedly the agent wanted Macy’s to give Siegel-Cooper its 14th Street store in exchange for the land at 34th Street.

But Macy’s wouldn’t have it. The store was built around the plot.

In 1903, Siegel-Cooper put up the five-story building there today.

[Above, how Macy's covered up the building in 1936 and in the 1960s]

Hollywood tough guys raised in Manhattan

December 27, 2010

Both acting legends were born in 1899, but under very different financial circumstances.

James Cagney started life in a tenement on Avenue D and East Eighth Street but grew up on East 96th Street in mostly German Yorkville.

“Yorkville was then a street-brawling neighborhood, and Jimmy became a champion battler,” stated his 1986 New York Times obituary.

“As a catcher for a Yorkville amateur baseball team, he played a game in 1919 at Sing Sing prison, where five former schoolmates were serving terms.”

Young Cagney went to Stuyvesant High School, then a semester at Columbia. He had jobs at the New York Sun, the New York Public Library, and Wanamaker’s department store on Astor Place.

Good thing he learned tap dancing as a kid. He was able to pick up extra cash doing vaudeville, which led to roles on Broadway and in movies.

Meanwhile, on West 103rd Street, Humphrey Bogart was growing up affluent, a descendant of the Bogaert family, who came to New Amsterdam from Holland in 1652.

Son of a doctor and suffragette, Bogart attended Trinity School, then Phillips Andover academy, where he was expelled.

His family money slowly draining away, he went into the Navy, then tried his hand at screenwriting before turning to acting.

“I was born to be indolent,” he reportedly said. “And this was the softest of rackets.”

[Photo: Bogart at age nine, from Upper West Side Story by Peter Salwen]

Fulton Street shopping at the turn of the century

December 20, 2010

Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street isn’t exactly the borough’s most sophisticated shopping strip these days.

But at the turn of the 20th century, it was a hub for major department stores and fine specialty shops—such as these found on a couple of old business cards.

A quick search through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives shows that the A.C. Flatley people placed lots of ads in that paper in the 1880s and 1890s.

There’s a Hoyt and Teale Clothiers in Brooklyn as early as the 1870s. Their shop was at 607 Fulton Street—a few doors down from the Teale & Co. store at 611 Fulton.


Holiday toy shopping at Gimbels in 1934

December 8, 2010

In the thick of the Depression, I wonder how many lucky New York kids got one of these cool toys for Christmas.

That police car with the electric lights would be worth a lot more than $1.31 today. As for the cowboy suit, it comes with a gun and bullets. Can you even buy a slightly realistic looking toy gun these days?

This ad comes from a December 1934 edition of the Daily News. Gimbels was huge then, as anyone who has ever seen Miracle on 34th Street knows.

The department store giant started  held on until the mid-1980s. A faded Gimbels ad on 30th Street is all that’s left.

A busy shopping district downtown in 1855

November 10, 2010

This lovely print of then-bustling Liberty Street is a promotion for Witte & Brunswig, importers of French and German “fancy goods.”

“The printmaker included several anecdotal details: a pigtailed Chinese man (lower right); a black man fashionably attired in plaid trousers, leaning against a lamp post (near lower right); and, cleverly, a man wearing placards advertising his own commercial lithography business (toward the lower left)” writes Marilyn Symmes in Impressions of New York.

So who are the “friends” this ad addresses? Probably other German immigrants, according to Symmes. At this time, Germans made up the second largest group of immigrants in the city (first: the Irish).

When everybody shopped at Crazy Eddie

October 22, 2010

Were you living in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s? Then you probably shopped at Crazy Eddie—or at least you remember the prices-are-insane and Christmas-in-July commercials.

The chain, which started with one store in Coney Island, was the place to go for TVs, air conditioners, stereos, boom boxes, calculators, as well as records, tapes, and 8-tracks.

This ad comes from the December 10, 1980 New York Post. The logo looks so old-school; I guess it predates the prices-are-insane guy from the TV commercials.

Like so many other electronics chains, Crazy Eddie had a brief shelf life. There was the mid-1980s legal trouble: an SEC investigation, extradition, and prison sentence for the guy who ran the company.

But Crazy Eddie is remembered pretty fondly. The store even has its own tribute page.

The humble beginnings of two fashion giants

September 8, 2010

Luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman has been at its current location on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street for over 70 years.

Which is why it’s easy to forget that like most massive New York City retailers, the company started small much farther down Fifth Avenue.

On a grimy, neon-lit stretch of 32nd Street just east of Fifth Avenue stands the second Bergdorf building, constructed in 1906. Here, Herman Bergdorf, immigrant tailor from Alsace, ran a successful ladies tailoring shop until he outgrew the space in the 1920s.

The Lerner company also got its start in midtown with a small namesake building.

In 1907, this once-huge mass market fashion chain—does the label even exist anymore?—opened on Seventh Avenue in the 30s as a plus-size retailer.  

See the green and yellow emblems flanking the top of the facade? They’re quite a majestic touch!

The Show Folks Shoe Shop hiding in Times Square

April 24, 2010

Partly obscured by a Maxell billboard and a red and white TGIF restaurant awning is a subdued two-story structure on Broadway and 46th Street.

It’s a grimy yet elegant find. Turn the corner, and you can see a curious phrase carved into the limestone facade: “”The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear.”

What’s the story? The building opened in 1926 as an upscale I. Miller shoe store, a chain that thrived until the 1970s. Early on, I. Miller specialized in footwear for show business types.

No wonder there are four life-size statues of famous actresses set in pockets of the facade. Mary Pickford (at right, as Little Lord Fauntleroy) and Ethel Barrymore are still well-known.

But the other two, Marilyn Miller and Rosa Ponselle, have fallen into obscurity. 

Kind of the way the building has fallen into disrepair. Landmarked in 1999, it needs a good cleaning, especially around the statues.

Ethel Barrymore, above left, as Ophelia in Hamlet; musical comedy actress Marilyn Miller as the lead in a play called Sunny.

Herald Square in the 1950s and today

April 21, 2010

“One of the most popular shopping centers in the world” proclaims the back of this 1950s-era postcard.

It’s a nice look back at what would still be considered Herald Square’s department store glory days, before its decline into a more low-rent district.

There’s Gimbels, defunct since the 1980s, and Macy’s next door. Far off  on the right is the sign for the Hotel McAlpin, the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912.

On the right is the Hotel Martinique. Once a stately place to rent a room when Herald Square was the city’s theater district, it would become a disgusting welfare hotel in the 1970s and 1980s.

Herald Square today is spruced up, with a Bloomberg-era pedestrian plaza in front of the cleaned up Radisson Martinique.

Gimbels’ old building is covered in glass. Macy’s remains, of course, as does the McAlpin, now apartments.


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