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.