R.H. Macy’s, Herald Square, New York City

Most Americans are well acquainted with Macy’s not only because of the annually televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, but also because there are now Macy’s stores located all over the country.  The mother store is located on almost a full city block in New York, between 34th and 35th Streets, and Broadway and Seventh Avenue.  Simply put, the store is huge.  It has also been added to and updated since it was built in 1902, but it is possible to see a lot of history in the building even today.

The store’s founder, R.H. Macy, was not initially successful in his retail ventures, but in 1858 he finally hit prosperity with his newest idea, R.H. Macy & Co.  Basically, he opened a dry goods store at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, a store that was, at the time a bit too far uptown to be in the thick of the retail scene.  At that time, most of the city was still contained to the area that today is lower Manhattan.  As the city grew, it had to spread north, or uptown, because it is on an island.

Even though he was not in the center of things, Macy made it work.  The store was so successful that Macy kept buying the surrounding buildings in order to expand.  R.H. Macy died in 1877, and the business passed on to his partners, a nephew and cousin.  The business was eventually bought (1896) by brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus, who were already selling china in the store.  In 1902 the Straus family moved the store uptown again, this time to 34th Street and Broadway.  Over time the company came to inhabit most of the block, all the way to Seventh Avenue.

As the company began to purchase the property, the owner of a small building at the corner of 34th and Broadway refused to sell.  It is thought that he was acting on behalf of another store, Siegal-Cooper, which was believed to be the largest store in the world and who did not want Macy’s to be even larger.  Macy’s decided to just build around the older store, and it remains that way today.  As you can see in the photo above, Macy’s now leases the upper stories for their shopping bag sign.

And while we are looking at the sign, note the big star.  It is widely thought that R.H. Macy had acquired a red star tattoo while working on a ship in his younger days.  The star remains as the store’s logo.

Much of the ground floor of the original building has been changed, but the entrance at 34th Street has been restored to pretty much the way it was built.  The windows and revolving door are newer, but stepping through the front into the foyer is like stepping back in time, with lovely marble steps and walls that lead the customer into the store.

In the foyer is this bronze tribute to Isidor and Ida Straus, who both died on April 15, 1912.  They were sailing on the Titanic.  As an elderly man, Isidor was granted a spot in a lifeboat with Ida and her maid, but he refused the spot because other women and children were waiting for a seat, and Ida refused to go on without her husband.  The maid survived and the story of Isidor and Ida became a popular one after news of the sinking spread.

One last interesting thing about the Macy’s store is that some of the original wooden escalators are still operational.  On most of the floors the original wooden escalator steps have been replaced with metal, but the upper floors still have the original wood.  According to a 2012 article in The New York Times, there are 42 wooden escalators remaining in the store.

This is the first of my posts from my trip to New York City, and I just hope you all do not get sick of hearing about it before I get it all completed!

21 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Shopping

21 responses to “R.H. Macy’s, Herald Square, New York City

  1. I promise not to get sick of your telling us about New York….I did not know all that about the Titanic / Straus incident. But I do remember that incident in the scene from the movie. … Did not know they owned Macy’s. Thanks for the info. I appreciated it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I shopped a lot at Macy’s in the ’60s and knew very little of this history Lizzie, thanks. And oh … the windows at Christmas.

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  3. Love the Macy’s post! Do they still have the gourmet food and eatery in the basement? THE Macy’s was one of my primary destinations on my first trip to NYC years ago. It did not disappoint. Hope you have/had a wonderful trip!

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  4. vastlycurious.com

    I love that story and the photos of the store. Old, though it is steeped in history. More please?

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  5. Mary S

    great story
    and could you sometime comment on “Grantchester” 50’s costuming!!
    thanks for a great blog

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  6. Christine

    Never tire of NY stories or historic emporiums.

    Like

  7. Carla

    Your posts always make me happy! Keep ’em coming so I can:

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fascinating, Lizzie! I have always hated the inside of the cavernous and confusing store. Now I see that I should have spent more time looking at the outside.

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    • According to a 2010 study, they found that around 30% of the people in the store are “lost” and that is not necessarily a bad thing. People who are wandering tend to stay in the store and actually end up spending more money!

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  9. Ree

    I lived in Manhattan in the 80s for a short time. I was totally starstruck by the island. I remember those wooden escalators – I loved them back then too! I loved buying coffee in The Cellar as gifts for my friends. (Not sure if it’s still there)

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  10. I remember the feeling of excitement that I had when I went to Macy’s for the first time, back in 2001, before their take over of many other department stores, including Portland’s own Meier & Frank, so it was a big deal for me then. And made even more magical by the fact we were there for Thanksgiving.

    Like you, I was surprised and happy over many original fixtures and fascinated with the wooden escalators!

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  11. Pingback: Ad Campaign – R.H. Macy & Co., 1924 | The Vintage Traveler

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