Posts Tagged ‘Macy’s 14th Street’

This woman made Macy’s a Gilded Age success

July 1, 2019

Macy’s—the retail giant that got its shaky start at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street (below right) in 1858—takes credit for a lot of firsts.

This dry goods emporium was the first to offer set prices for each item (in other words, no haggling), a money-back guarantee, and a store Santa starting with the 1862 holiday season.

But the retailer that eventually operated 11 shops across 14th Street in the Ladies Mile shopping district before decamping for Herald Square in 1902 can also claim another first.

Macy’s was the first store, or perhaps the first business in New York at all, to employ a female executive.

Having an astute woman leading a company that largely marketed itself to women may have been the secret that helped make Macy’s the retail giant it still is today.

Born in 1841, Margaret Getchell (above) was a former schoolteacher from Nantucket who moved to New York City at the age of 20. She applied for an entry-level job as a Macy’s clerk.

[Some accounts have it that Getchell was a distant relation of Rowland H. Macy, the store founder; but it’s unclear if this was actually true.]

“[Getchell] was an incredibly hard-working employee and, aside from her quick calculations as a cashier, she would often stay late at night to help with the company bookkeeping,” states The Folding Chair, a women’s history website. “Macy decided to promote her to the store’s bookkeeper.”

Soon, Getchell wasn’t just keeping track of the books and training new “cash girls,” as the shopgirls were called. She was recommending trends to Macy that he should capitalize on.

“At the end of the Civil War, Margaret suggested the addition of military-inspired fashion. She also began to spot budding trends in gifts, jewelry, clocks, homeware and cooking equipment,” The Folding Chair explains.

“These suggestions, as they began to materialize in the shop, transformed Macy’s into the first modern department store in America.”

By 1867, after pioneering an in-store soda fountain and window displays with cats dressed in baby clothes, Getchell, 26, was promoted to store superintendent.

She married another Macy’s employee, and the two lived above one of the stores, according to Macy’s for Sale.

As consumerism exploded in the Gilded Age, Macy’s became one of New York’s leading new department stores.

Getchell, sadly, didn’t live to see the store make its historic leap to Herald Square at the beginning of the 20th century.

Two years after her husband died of tuberculosis in 1878, Getchell succumbed to heart failure and inflammation of the ovary.

Her business motto, however, still applies to retail today: “Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.”

[Top photo: The Folding Chair; second photo: Bettman/Corbis; third photo: Postcards From Old New York/Facebook; fourth photo: Alice Austen; fifth photo: The Folding Chair]

A 19th century pickpocket fleeces New York

July 12, 2012

Criminals in the 19th century had such illustrious nicknames.

Take Old Mother Hubbard, for instance. Reportedly born in 1828 in Ireland as Margaret Brown, she came to the U.S. and found work as a housekeeper—then embarked on a 50-year side career as a notorious pickpocket and shoplifter.

“She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again,” states Professional Criminals of America, written by NYPD head Thomas Byrnes in 1886.

Old Mother Hubbard stole pretty much anything she could in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and she practiced her craft typically dressed in black silk.

After a stint in prison in Illinois, she arrived in New York City in 1884 and joined the inner circle of top fence Marm Mandelbaum. But not for long.

That year, she was nabbed stealing a purse from a shopper at Macy’s, then on 14th Street (left) and booked at Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue.

Described as a “white-haired, wrinkled woman” by The New York Times, she served three months at Blackwell’s Island.

Upon her release, she was rearrested for crimes committed in Boston and sentenced to prison.

The official record goes cold after that—perhaps she died in a Boston jail.

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]