Tag Archives: department store

Marshall Field & Co, Chicago (aka Macy’s)

When visiting a new place, I’m always interested in the history of fashion retail in that town or city. In so many ways, in Chicago this is epitomized by Marshall Field’s, a long established department store located in the heart of the old shopping district of State Street inside the Loop. To sum up a lot of history, the store that became Marshall Field’s was started in 1852 by Chicago big-wig Potter Palmer. Field became involved in a partnership in the store in 1865.

In 1868 the renamed Field, Leiter, and Co. moved to where the store is now located on State Street. But this is not the same building, which was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. As the city rebuilt, so did Field and Leiter. In 1881, Field bought out Leiter, and Marshall Field and Co. was officially born. A series of building additions ensued, and in 1907 the store as it exists today was pretty much finished.

Over time, Marshall Field became a Chicago institution, so much so that in 2005 when the store was bought by Macy’s there was a big protest. Fortunately, much of the interior was left intact so that visitors to the store today can get a good idea of the grandeur in which people shopped in the early part of the Twentieth Century.

The store has two large open areas, and one of them has a favrile glass mosaic vaulted ceiling decorated by Tiffany. It’s worth taking a stroll into the building just to see it.

Today, of course, the shopping experience is just not the same with the bright florescent lighting and the same Macy’s merchandise available across the country. Still, if one uses their imagination…

The Chicago History Museum has a display on Marshall Field & Company, which was a fashion leader in the city.

One block down State Street is the site of another great Chicago department store – Carson, Pirie, Scott. As you can see, today the lower floors are a Target, but the beautiful ironwork in the Louis Sullivan designed building still amazes anyone who takes the time to stop and really look at it.

As I was thinking about the grand old department stores and their disappearance from American retail, I turned to Jan Whitaker’s book on the subject, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class. Rereading the first few chapters reminded me that while we mourn the demise of stores like Marshall Field and Wanamaker’s and Rich’s, when the department stores took over one hundred or so years ago, people were mourning the loss of the little private owner specialty store. And interestingly enough, it looks like today’s retail beasts – Walmart, Target, Costco, and the like – will soon be at the mercy of Amazon as it moves into the grocery and brick and mortar business. Will we have the same nostalgia for the big box chain store?

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.



Filed under Shopping

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!


Filed under Curiosities, Shopping

Bon Marche Then & Now

From the early days of the 20th century, the most fashionable store in Asheville was Bon Marche.  The buildling above was finished in 1928, being especially constructed for Bon Marche.  The owner, Soloman Lipinsky, took a bit of a risk building so far from the city center, which was three blocks away at Pack Square.  But the city followed Lipinsky, and today this building is in the thick of it.

Bon Marche was only in this building for a few years.  They moved across the street, and remained there until the store closed (or rather, moved to the newly opened mall), sometime in the 1970s.  I remember what a treat  shopping in that store was as a teenager with a friend and her mother.  My family usually shopped at Sears, located a few blocks away.

This building was sold to Ivey’s, a Charlotte based department store.  When I was in college, this store was still open, and I’d often sneak away from classes early to prowl around in the bargain basement.  Ivey’s was eventually bought by Dillards.

Today it is the Haywood Park Hotel, and the entrance to the old store now leads to a restaurant.  My picture isn’t very good, as a tree was squarely in my way.  I’ll redo it this winter.  You can see, first how the building was enlarged to the right of the photo.  To the left, there are now luxury apartments, made from the old JC Jenney store.  And if the plan works out, this building will soon be dwarfed by a tower the hotel is planning to build behind the original building, in an old alleyway.

It is amazing to me the turn-around downtown Asheville has made in the past ten years or so.  After the Asheville Mall opened in the early 1970s, the place was dead and down right scary.  The only people who lived downtown were the down-on-their-luckers at the Windsor Hotel, the urban pioneers living in unheated lofts, and the elderly living in public housing at the former Battery  Park and Vanderbilt Hotels.  Now there are shops galore, and people paying lots of money to actually live downtown.  And developers.

The poor residents of the Windsor were given just days to vacate after a California developer bought it last fall.  It will soon be luxury apartments.  And I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the same thing happens to the Battery Park and the Vanderbilt, both of which occupy prime spots in downtown.  The building continues, and downtown is thriving.  I can’t help but think of the cycles the city has gone through; it has a very long history of boom and bust.

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Filed under North Carolina, Shopping

Luncheon at Bullock’s Wilshire, circa 1931

There was a time in our not too distant past when a day shopping meant not the mall, but a day at a department store.  All cities of any size at all had great ones that are fondly remembered, but perhaps one of the very best was Bullock’s Wilshire, located in Los Angeles.  If you were looking for the best, then you went to Bullock’s Wilshire and was not disappointed.

Bullock’s Wilshire had not one, but three dining areas: the Desert Tea Room, the Cactus Room and the Salle Moderne.  These were favored celebrity-spotting locales, as even the stars shopped at Bullock’s Wilshire!

So from this 1931 menu, I’ll be treating Joan, who was the winner in my summer reading contest!  Congratulations, Joan; you may choose from the following:

Creamed Chicken & Mushrooms in Asparagus Ring with Lattice Potatoes & Strawberry Sherbet $1.25

Chicken with Avocado, Fresh Peach & Hearts of Artichoke, Hot Roll  $1.10

Baked Ham with Orange Sauce, Escalloped Potatoes & Garden Salad  .95

Ramekin of Chicken with Assorted Vegetables  .90

Omelet Italienne (Ham, Mushroom, Chicken Livers) Apple Jelly .85

Asparagus on Toast with Tomato Sauce, Candied Sweet Potatoes & Roquefort Stuffed Celery   .80

Casserole of Shrimp & Rice with Tomato & Cucumber Salad  .75

Try getting THAT at the mall’s food court!


Posted by Joan:

Oh boy, I am SO excited! Imagine winning your vintage-related summer read *and* a luncheon at Bullock’s Wilshire, circa 1931. This is indeed my lucky day! 

Well, hmm, what to choose from that wonderful menu? (Note to self to look up ‘ramekin.’) For me it’s a toss-up between the Casserole of Shrimp & Rice with Tomato & Cucumber Salad and the Creamed Chicken & Mushrooms in Asparagus Ring with Lattice Potatoes & Strawberry Sherbet (only $1.25!). Have you decided?

LOVE the art deco graphics, fonts, and color palette. Thanks again, Lizzie, for another great blog entry, my new summer read, and the lovely luncheon!

Wednesday, July 9th 2008 @ 11:15 AM

Posted by Norah Nick:

Oooooo thank you so much for sharing this!! I was surfing the net for Bullocks-Wilshire info because I went on their annual Tour & Tea yesterday. I was never fortunate enough to shop there when it was still a department store, but am greatful to Southwestern Law for preserving all its art deco interiors. 

I love your website and really appreciate you posting pictures of the great things in your collection!! LOVE the 1939 road trip postcards!!!

Sunday, August 3rd 2008 @ 7:33 PM

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Asheville’s Bon Marche

For some time now I’ve been trying to include items in my collection which came from local stores.  By local, I mean Western North Carolina, but mainly the fashion center, Asheville.  From its early days as a tourist destination, Asheville has been thought of as a fashionable place, not because the local people were particularly fashionable, but because of all the visitors who came to town with their big city wardrobes.

But from the turn of the 20th century there were more than just dry goods stores in Asheville.  Probably the earliest fashionable store was what became Bon Marche.

I can remember what was the last location of Bon Marche in downtown Asheville, but the location I was most familiar with was the Bon Marche located in what was a new idea when built in 1956, a strip shopping center.  Called Westgate, at that time it really was at the gateway to downtown.  Today, it is just one more bit of urban sprawl, but in the mid 1960s it was still novel.

Every Thursday my family piled in the car after school and work to travel the 20 miles to Asheville for our weekly shopping trip.  We always ended up at Westgate because there was a Winn Dixie where Mama bought groceries.  While she shopped, my brother and I were allowed to go wherever; just be back at the car by 8.  When I was younger, most of the time was spent in the two “dime stores” at Westgate, or in the hobby shop, but as a preteen I discovered the delights of Bon Marche.

They had a great teen department, and the clothes of the mid 60s were so much fun.  I found I could spend the entire time just looking and getting ideas for the clothes that I made for myself.

The above label comes from a circa 1957 suit, and I imagine the Resort Shop was gone by the time I “shopped” in the store.  But its a nice reminder of one of my all-time favorite stores.  Sadly, Bon Marche is no more.

The photos below are 2 postcards in my collection, both from around 1960.  The top one plainly shows the sign and location of Bon Marche.  The next one is enlarged and it more clearly shows the size of Westgate.  The bottom postcard shows how undeveloped the surrounding area was at that time.  Cross the bridge (now two bridges) and you were in Asheville.  The land directly behind Westgate was bought and developed by Hilton Hotels as a resort and golf course in the 1970s.


Filed under North Carolina, Shopping