Remember when —
Alexanders was the go-to place for bargains. It’s first location was on Fordham Road in the Bronx.
EJKorvette’s was founded by — and named for — Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans. At least that’s the story I heard. It was on Fifth Avenue and 47th St., and discounted everything. I remember losing my then-toddler son in the store. He had climbed inside a roll of carpeting and was playing hide-and-seek with an increasingly frantic mommy.
Orbach’s gained fame for copying Paris designer fashions off the runway and had knock-offs in its store on 34th St. and Fifth avenue within a week, long before chains like H&M and Uniqlo, which now have outposts across the street from where Orbach’s used to be.
B. Altman was the destination for upscale, preppy fashions and home furnishings. Lucky for us, the beautiful building on 34th St. and Fifth Avenue hasn’t been altered outside, but inside, it’s the NY Public Library branch known a SIBL.
Franklin Simon was another upscale fashion destination, also on 34th Street, a few doors west of Orbach’s.
Gimbel’s was the big competitor to Macy’s, a huge store on 33rd St. and Broadway that is now a JCPenney. Macy’s and Gimbel’s were such fierce competitors that they gave birth to a saying — Does Macy’s tell Gimbel’s? Gimbel’s was the setting for the iconic 1947 Miracle on 34th St. film, not Macy’s, and Gimbel’s, not Macy’s, was the place where Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz went shopping in the equally iconic I Love Lucy television series in the Fifties.
Saks 34th St. was the lower-priced outpost than sibling Saks Fifth Avenue, and disappeared the same time as Gimbel’s.
Plymouth Shops was a low-cost fashion chain, with stores all over the city, much like Bolton’s is today.
Best & Co. was at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A quiet, upscale oasis befitting its location, and also NYC’s best deals on cashmere sweaters. I still have a black cashmere cardigan I bought with one of my first paychecks after college.
Bonwit Teller used to be on 57th St. and Fifth Avenue, its beautiful, ornate facade torn down by Donald Trump to make way for a Nike Store. Ugh. My mother was a milliner. She worked in the garment district making hats, including for the fashion label Lily Dache, the top hat label in ‘those’ days, when women rarely went out without a hat and gloves. My mom and I used to visit Bonwits, and also Bergdorf Goodman’s across the street, to see what the hats she made cost at retail. The difference between what Lily Dache paid her for making the hat, and what customers paid for it at Bonwit’s and Bergdorf’s was about 10x. It was an early lesson for me, and a great reason I’ve always championed sales and deals.
Abraham & Straus dominated downtown Brooklyn for generations. A&S went out of business when Macy’s corporate owner bought them and closed them down, turning most locations into Macy’s outposts.
Stern Brothers used to be on 42nd St. and Fifth Ave. Another mid-price chain similar to A&S, Gimbel’s and Saks 34th.
S. Klein was also known as S. Klein on the Square, for its location on Union Square — and also known for its discounts. Its major competitor on 14th St. was —
Mays Department Store, a discounter gone long before Filene’s Basement and Syms arrived on the scene — and, in a final bit of irony — took over the space that used to be Mays.
Did I miss anything? Find department stores that have disappeared in other cities and states on The Department Store Museum website.