Tag Archives: Macy’s

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.

15 Comments

Filed under Shopping, Travel

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