Legendary Philadelphia Department Store – Wanamaker’s

A trip to any big city is not complete without a visit to some wonderful shopping emporium of the past. In Philadelphia, that means Wanamaker’s.

As much as I hate the blandness and standardization that Macy’s represents in today’s shopping culture, I will admit that they have done a reasonably good job of preserving parts of the old department stores they have taken over. I saw this in Chicago in the old Marshall Field store, and was delighted to see so much shopping history in the old Wanamaker store in Philadelphia.

John Wanamaker really was a ground-breaking merchant, though the interior of his store looks quaintly old-fashioned to visitors today. No matter, as it is the past that took us to  Macy’s/Wanamaker’s.

The store that stands today was opened in 1911. It has an open court, and on one end a giant pipe organ, acquired by Mr. Wanamaker from the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis, is installed. In the courtyard is a Philadelphia landmark, the Wanamaker Eagle.

The eagle was also a relic of the Saint Louis Fair. Wanamaker bought it, and even reinforced the floor beneath it so it could be safely displayed. People shopping would use the centrally placed eagle as a meeting place, and “Meet me at the eagle” became part of Philly vernacular.

Macy’s has a sign beside the eagle that tells about the tradition and a bit of the eagle’s history. They even have someone on staff who is very familiar with the store’s history in case one has unanswered questions.

When linens designer Tammis Keefe designed a hankie for Philadelphia, she used the interior of Wanamaker’s and included the famous phrase.  This hankie was a gift from Mod Betty, who lives in the Philadelphia area.

You know I adore a good mosaic, and so I loved this one found in one of the entrances to the store.  John Wanamaker made sure a customer knew it was his store.

I’d like to report than that Macy’s in Philadelphia still retains some of the great customer service Wanamaker’s was famous for. But our experience was quite the opposite. Tim found himself in need of more reliable walking shoes so we thought while we were already there, it would be a chance to quickly pick up a pair. He found shoes that suited him, but unfortunately we left without buying them. There were people working in the shoe department, but we just couldn’t interest any of them in assisting us. Old JW must have turned over in his grave.


Filed under Shopping, Travel

17 responses to “Legendary Philadelphia Department Store – Wanamaker’s

  1. Wanamakers had the most wonderful fabric department, where I sometimes spent lunch hours when I was working in the city as a twenty-something. It was such an amazing store! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda

    Enjoyed reading this very much. A true Philadelphian still calls this wonderful historical store Wanamaker’s (not Macy’s) and is proud to say “Meetcha at da Iggle!” Fortunately, Macy’s has retained the Christmas Light Show (which started Thanksgiving thru New Years) held in the grand court on the wall where the organ is. Watching this spectacular show you instantly become a 5 year relishing the true magic of Christmas. Happy Holidays!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My first trip to a major city was in 1972. I was 16 years old and I had never experienced anything like Wanamaker’s. I think my eyeball prints are still on the ceiling!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It is wonderful that Macy’s is saving some of these great buildings, but unfortunately I experienced the same kind of ‘service’ at their Chicago store many times. Mr. Fields would be turning in his grave, too…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Were you there at the top of the hour? They still get someone to play the old organ on the regular. And the light show at the holidays is really lovely (but usually packed!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jacq staubs

    I have personal / fond memories of Wannamaker . As a little boy I visited the store with my grand father while he tuned the organ ( he was a pipe organ builder) in later years after a semi retirement he traveled and tuned . While it was not one he personally installed and not one of the considered “prime” like the Moller instruments he worked his career for- it was special. I went with the women in my family to shop with as well. Later i n my career I knew their legendary fashion director. and later worked with the personal shopper. This was ( to me) definitive American retail at it’s finest. ONE of the ” Sister” companies. Thank you for this wonderful memory Lizzie XO

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m so glad you were able to visit Wanamaker’s / Macy’s and see the treasures that still survive! I love bringing visitors there, and hearing the organ is something pretty special – you’ll have to return some day to hear it! Perhaps we’ll meet at the Eagle like on your hankie 🙂 / xo Mod Betty

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank goodness they did keep some of those iconic details! And how unique of a phrase! I love it! And lord knows, I love a good Tammis Keefe piece. I have a sadly incomplete drinking reindeer cocktail napkin set by him.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lauren

    I was searching for the name of the artist that completed this mosaic, and came across your post. According to my family, it was my great grandfather Vincenzo Sonzogni. So I think by now everyone one of us has had our picture taken in front of it! Does anyone know where I may be able to find out more information about this mosaic? Thank you! Happy Holidays!


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