Retail History | The Golden Age

I remember when someone calling you a good merchant was a great compliment, and being in the industry was, well, a real credible profession.  Sometimes when I tell people what I do they give me that look– you know, like they’re wondering when I’ll get a real job.  To me retail & apparel is a real job, and my passion.  But I do long for the past more and more– like the real haberdashers.  Not the pseudo “haberdashery” pop-up shops we see from time to time in J. Crew, Ralph and others, but the real deal.  And the old school merchants, an almost extinct breed.

Ah, the glory days– before it all went to crap.


Gimbel Brothers Department Store

1842 - Alan Gimbel opened Palace of Trade Vincennes, IN; 1887 - Isaac and Jacob Gimbel opened first store in Milwaukee; 1894 - opened large department store in Philadelphia (above); 1910 - opened store in New York City in Herald Square near Macy's; 1973 - acquired by Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. for $200 million; 1987 - last of Gimbel stores closed.


Meier & Frank

1857 - Aaron Meier (26), German immigrant, rented a 35 X 50 foot space and began selling dry goods in Portland, OR; 1873 - Emil Frank became a partner, signs were changed to Meier & Frank (above); 1966 - acquired by May Company; August 30, 2005 - acquired by Federated department Stores; 2006 - name changed to Macy's.


Halle Brothers Co.

1891 - Samuel H. and Salmon P. Halle established Halle Brothers Co. on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, OH; became one of Cleveland's largest department stores; 1970 - acquired by Marshall Field; overexpanded, lost money; 1982 - closed.



1858 - Abram, David, and Charles Hutzler established a dry goods store at the corner of Howard and Clay Streets in Baltimore; 1888 - replaced by Hutzler's Palace; February 1989 - closed.



October 27, 1858 - Captain Rowland H. Macy (36) opened Macy's department store in New York City on corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue; first day sales totaled $11.06; $90,000.00 gross sales in first year. 1902 - built new store at Herald Square (9 stories, 33 elevators, 4 escalators, pneumatic tube system).



1876 - John Wanamaker converted abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad freight depot into multipurpose clothing, specialties store called Grand Depot (intended to resemble central market like London's Royal Exchange or Paris' Les Halles); featured 129 circular counters that ringed central gas-lighted tent for demonstration of women's ballroom fashions.


Marks & Spencer

884 - Michael Marks founded opened a stall at Leeds Kirkgate Market in London, UK; 1894 - formed partnership with Tom Spencer, former cashier from the wholesale company IJ Dewhirst; Marks & Spencer at Croydon (above).



1872 - Original Bloomingdale's store on Third Avenue at 56th Street, New York City.


Lord & Taylor

1826 - Samuel Lord opened first store on 47-49 Catherine Street in lower Manhattan (above); 1838 - George Washington Taylor (Lord's wife's cousin) joined firm as partner; 1859 - moved to Broadway and Grand Street; 1986 - acquired by May Company; August 30, 2005 - acquired by Federated Department Stores; June 22, 2006 - acquired by NRDC Equity Partners, LLC.



October 16, 1868 - Brigham Young established Zion's Co-Operative Mercantile Institution ("ZCMI") in Salt Lake City, UT as parent outlet of eventual territory-wide cooperative system (above); majority owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; America's first full-line department store; December 1999 - acquired by May Department Stores.


G.C. Murphy

March 1899 - George Clinton Murphy, cousin of John G. McCrorey, former manager of McCrory store (founded 1882) in Jamestown, NY in 1896, started five-and-10 in Pittsburgh, PA; 1904 - acquired by Woolworth; 1906 -


via flickr

7 thoughts on “Retail History | The Golden Age

  1. I really enjoyed this. As someone else who is among the retail/apparel world…I’ve always strived to work alongside a stand alone store or brand. It makes it much more personal and overall, a better feeling. Unfortunately, as you said…most have gone to crap.

  2. I know– not everyone is mentioned that deserves to be– it could have easily been twice as lengthy. Maybe Pt. II is in order down the road.

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