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 legend says 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, also known for its excellent service.
Lucky for us, the beautiful building on 34th St. and Fifth Avenue has not been altered outside, but inside, it’s the NY Public Library branch known a SIBL, for Science, Industry, Business Library.
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, when I was working as a news writer a few blocks away, at Associated Press, then at 50 Rockefeller Center.
Bonwit Teller used to be on 57th St. and Fifth Avenue, its beautiful, ornate facade torn down by Donald Trump to build the adjacent Trump Tower. Ugh. What was left of the building became a Nike Store – which has become a temporary home for Tiffany & Co. as the classics townhouse on the corner is being renovated.
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 on Saturdays, and also Bergdorf Goodman’s across the street – not to shop, but to see what the hats she made cost at retail.
The difference between what Lily Dache paid my mom 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 worker’s rights and customer rights, along with supporting small businesses like the retail store my father owned in the Bronx and later in Manhattan.
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 before they went out of business themselves.
Did I miss anything? Find department stores that have disappeared in other cities and states on The Department Store Museum website.