A picture which never fails to capture the imagination of New Yorkers is the old store of Lord & Taylor in Catherine Street, or R. H. Macy’s first store in Sixth Avenue. The editor of this Manual in his peregrinations about our old city, lecturing on the fascinating subject of old New York, invariably finds that these pictures attract every eye and put his audience at once into a delightful mood of reminiscence. Of course, these firms are still extant, and the comparative effect between the “then and now” is so startling that the audience cannot help but be absorbingly interested. When we see these little old stores on the screen they appear to us, who are accustomed to the magnificent, to be rather dilapidated and unimportant ; but the fact is they were quite as important in their time as the great imposing departmental palaces of the present day are to us. The thing which astounds and puzzles us most is the marvelous growth of these establishments from such small beginnings. We can hardly realize that their acres of floor space and their thou-sands and thousands of employees, together with their enormous stock of goods and its bewildering variety, should have had their beginning in those small and far from attractive-looking stores. And one of the most interesting facts about them is that quite a number who were earliest in the field are still going and are leading the procession in their marvelously rapid growth and progress.
When Catherine Street was one of the important business streets of the city the fashionable retail shops were located there, and lady shoppers wended their way thither to see the styles and make their purchases ; but the grand dames of those early days had only a few places to go to and not a great deal to attract them. The feminine desire for shopping, which is the unfailing source of such lucrative business in our progressive age, was then in its infancy and shop-ping was not the fine art it is today.
The old picture of Lord & Taylor’s store in Nos. 47 and 49 Catherine Street in 1833 shows two brick buildings of two and three stories respectively, with the old-time structure for an awning stretching across the narrow sidewalk to the curb. Being a double store there were two entrances, with windows on either side of the doors. No fine artistic display of expensive costumes and beautiful wearing apparel, such as we see today, was shown. On the contrary the shelves and windows were filled with substantial bolts of dry-goods for dresses, frocks and so forth, and blankets, linen and other articles of household use, all freshly imported from England, which at that time was the main source of supply. On the sidewalk and at the doors were the old-time placards announcing the special inducements of the day in quality and price, setting forth the particular benefits of purchasing from this enterprising firm. The business was established by Samuel Lord and George H. Taylor in 1830. Mr. Lord lived in the little village of Newtown, L. I., where he had a branch store, and used to drive in every morning in a light wagon, coming over the Greenpoint ferry to Catherine Street. Several changes have taken place in the firm since then. In 1879 Mr. E. P. Hatch became a partner and has remained till the present time the active managing head of the business.
The firm of Arnold & Hearn was established in 1827 by Aaron Arnold, who took his nephew George A. Hearn into partnership with him. Their store was in Canal Street. In 1842 the firm was reorganized, Mr. Hearn going into business with his brother James at 425 Broadway under the style of Hearn Bros., and James M. Constable, a son-in-law of Mr. Arnold, taking his place. The firm was then styled A. Arnold & Co. No further changes took place until 1853 when Richard Arnold, a son of Mr. Arnold, and Joseph P. Baker were admitted to partnership. The firm then became Arnold, Constable & Co. and remains so at the present time. They were located at 311 Canal Street, near Broadway. In 1869, just about the time A. T. Stewart opened his great retail establishment at Ninth Street, Arnold, Constable & Co. moved into the large building at Broadway and Nineteenth Street, where they remained until 1915. During this long period they enjoyed a select class of trade, popularly referred to as “carriage trade.” There were others who were favored with this class of business also, but none to the same extent. B. Altman & Co., Stern Bros. and Lord & Taylor had a considerable part of it, and kept the class of goods required for such a clientele, but Arnold, Constable & Co. had the lion’s share.
Lord & Taylor’s Broadway store in the 80s was one of the busiest and most attractive drygoods establishments in the city. They had a fine location at the corner of Twentieth Street, and made a special feature of dressing the large windows there with the latest styles in costumes and not infrequently millinery. These displays were so good that their fame spread beyond the confines of the city and people came long distances to see them.
Many of the names familiar to the New Yorker of 1825 have long ago been forgotten, but nevertheless they played their part in the development of the re-tail business, and some of them were enterprising and popular to such a degree that their names are known and their influence felt even at the present time. One of those was Jotham Smith, whose store at 235 Broad-way was a familiar resort for the grand dames of the early part of the nineteenth century. Another very popular store at that time was that of King & Mead at 175 Broadway, and also Union Adams near the latter.
But of course A. T. Stewart was the great luminary that was rising in the drygoods firmament, soon to eclipse all others, and to him may be accredited the distinction of being the initiator of the department store, which has grown to such enormous proportions in our own day. A. T. Stewart’s first store at 283 Broadway, which he opened in 1825, was a very small one; but his business increased so fast that in less than a year he had to move to larger premises at 262 Broadway and very soon after that, in 1830, to a still larger and more suitable place at 257 Broadway. He was rapidly rising in the business world and was already recognized as one of the leading merchants in his line. In 1846 he commenced building the large store at Broadway and Reade Street, on the site of the old Washington Hall, and by 1848 had extended it the whole length of the block to Chambers Street.
It is interesting to note in passing that Washington Hall was a very famous place in its day. In this hall, many of the great public functions took place. One of the most notable events of its history was when in 1814 a magnificent ball was given to celebrate the longed-for restoration of peace between England and America. The superb ballroom was magnificently decorated and was crowded with a brilliant company of the elite of old New York. The newspapers of the day described the scene as “a picture of feminine loveliness, beauty, fashion and elegance not to be surpassed in America.” It was also in Washington Hall that just about a year previous the great banquet given by the corporation of New York to Capt. Lawrence in honor of his brilliant naval victory took place.
This was the historic and interesting site on which the marble palace of A. T. Stewart was built, and it is quite possible that Mr. Stewart had some prescience of its value from the point of view of its brilliant and successful history as well as its location. A. T. Stewart was a hard-headed and practical man, but stories were told of an interesting bent of his mind toward harmless fancies. His friendly interest in the old apple-woman that plied her modest trade in front of his great store, and whom he would not permit to be disturbed, was one of these. At all events, on this site in his great marble palace he accomplished in a few years the amazing feat of doing the most extensive and profitable business of its kind in the world.
Mr. Stewart was a very reserved man, but amiable in disposition. Although he did not brook opposition, he always listened earnestly to the opinion of others. He was an extremely quiet man and spoke in a low thin voice which sounded almost effeminate. His movements about the store were infrequent, but when he did appear on any one of the floors all noises were hushed. The rasping sounds of the packing and the banging of the hand-trucks were softened down and all shouting and loud talking ceased, but business went on just the same, for Mr. Stewart liked to see every-body busy and could not tolerate idleness.
The business of A. T. Stewart was undoubtedly a one-man affair, for, although he had a partner in Mr. Libby, it was quite evident that all power and authority were vested in himself. Mr. Libby was very much like one of the President’s secretaries of departmentshe did what he was told. He was, nevertheless, an indispensable aid to his chief, and he must have had some qualities of mind which supplemented the great genius for management of his superior. Mr. Jones was the superintendent of this great business and was never known to be absent from his post. His punctuality was amazing and it was certainly an ex-ample which was not lost on the hundreds of employees. He was quick and abrupt in speech and riddled the excuses of dilatory clerks with merciless logic. But his disciplinary methods kept the work of the establishment in an almost perfect condition and his services were duly appreciated by Mr. Stewart.
One of the rare and valuable qualities of a business manthat of being able to select the right man for a positionwas possessed in the highest degree by Mr. Stewart. He never put a round peg into ‘a square hole. His intuition in this particular was wonderful and it enabled him to keep the machinery of business going without a hitch. He had the rare faculty, too, of picking out men who should be promoted, in the interest of the business as well as their own; and how he came to know them among the thousands in his employ may be ascribed to that unusual genius for affairs which was felt in all the ramifications of his great business.
Mr. Stewart had very few intimates, but the one he had stuck closer than a brother. He was rarely seen without Judge Hilton. He came with him in the morning and they both stepped into the same carriage when they departed in the afternoon. There was little that Judge Hilton did not know, and it was evidently Mr. Stewart’s purpose that he should know all. Being an able lawyer he could give valuable ad-vice in the intricate affairs of such a business, for the A. T. Stewart concern was constantly reaching out for control of factories making the kind of goods they handled. Many of those factories were in Europe, such as the silk mills of Lyons in France and the thread mills of Scotland. But Judge Hilton got deeper in than simply the confidential position of a legal adviser. In later years he became Mr. Stewart’s mentor, and when the latter died, leaving Judge Hilton a legacy of several millions, he was in a position to take over the entire estate from the widow. After A. T. Stewart’s death the great business at Broadway and Chambers Street, which was entirely a wholesale business, dwindled, and what remained was removed to the great retail building at Broadway and Ninth Street, an account of which follows further on in this article. The following interesting item concerning the last act of Mr. Stewart’s business career appeared in a letter to one of the morning papers a few years ago, signed E. H. N., Ridgewood, N. J.:
About April 1, 1876, Mr. Stewart came in the office, asked me for $50, signed his initials on the cash book, gave the money to his office young man for a wedding present and told him not to be extravagant. This was the last stroke of the pen and the last act he did in the wholesale dry goods establishment at Broadway and Chambers Street.
The trend of the retail business was constantly up-town. We find about 1850 the name of Seaman & Muir, one of the leading retail establishments, as far up as Worth Street, and another equally good, Strong & Adriance, almost next door. But Arnold & Con-stable was still further uptown, being on Canal Street, west of Broadway. S. & L. Holmes’ store was near Bleecker Street, but they have long since gone into oblivion although quite a famous establishment seventy years ago. And the same may be said of Rice & Smith, whose store was at Waverly Place and Broad-way. Hearn Bros. was at 425 Broadway, above Canal Street, at this time, not very far from their old partner Arnold. Lord & Taylor was still in Catherine Street, but recognized the trend of trade by opening an up-to-date establishment at Grand and Chrystie streets, which later became the leading drygoods store of that neighborhood.
The East Side at this time was a very different place from what it is today. It had some fine residential streets, built up on both sides with homes of old and well-to-do families. Such, for instance, was East Broadway, where still may be seen some of the old residences that even now give evidences of their aristocratic lineage. There was also Henry Street, a beautiful tree-embowered street, consisting almost entirely of the fine old two and three-story brick houses so common at that perioda delightful place for the homes of the old New Yorkers who almost monopolized this part of the city then. Madison Street was very similar, and even Division Street shared honors with these two. In fact, this whole section of the city was occupied by these well-to-do peoplethe prosperous merchants and professional men of that time, and the shopping district for the women folks was largely about Canal and Grand streets. But in time this section deteriorated, and the retail drygoods business concentrated about Broadway, extending all the time uptown.
In 1858 the movement in the retail business had reached Sixth Avenue, and the advent of R. H. Macy at 204 marked the beginning of an epoch in the dry-goods business phenomenal, astounding and fascinating. Why Mr. Macy selected Sixth Avenue for his venture we do not know. We may surmise that he was attracted to it by the fact that it was becoming one of the more populous sections of the city and was inhabited by that desirable class of people who would buy often, although not so generously each time, as those living in the more aristocratic neighborhoods. Sixth Avenue was a busy and popular street and was crowded with stores of all kinds, attracting the people as a center where all needs and all tastes could be satisfied. The business of Sixth Avenue grew by leaps and bounds and it soon became the great shopping district for the retail drygoods business.
The firm of R. H. Macy & Co. was more definitely a department store than any of the others and developed this idea more rapidly. Mr. Chauncey M. Depew, animadverting on this subject very recently, said that A. T. Stewart was the father of the department store ; but the public generally seem disposed to accord the distinction to R. H. Macy. The idea evolved naturally with the development of the retail business, but Mr. Macy put the practical touch to it. In a few years the store expanded to Fourteenth Street and spread up that street several numbers. At this time Fourteenth Street was a residential street and there were some fine old houses between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Trees on either side were still flourishing, but business had marked it for her own and the transformation was rapid after Macy made the breach at the corner of Sixth Avenue.
During the next decade the leading stores of old New York, which commenced business away downtown and had been moving uptown by gradual steps as business demanded, located themselves in this great drygoods sectiona section bounded by Tenth Street on the south and Twenty-third Street on the north, with Sixth Avenue as the western line and Broadway the eastern. In 1865 the firm of James A. Hearn & Son was at 775 Broadway; Arnold, Constable & Co. at 881 in 1869; Lord & Taylor at 897 in 1871; James McCreery & Co. at 801 in 1871; J. & C. Johnston at 937 in 1873 Aitken & Miller (later Aitken, Son & Co.) at 873 in 1869; Leboutillier Bros. at 48 E. 14th Street in 1869; all old New Yorkers from downtown locations.
Of later origin than those mentioned above were John Daniell, 759 Broadway in 1865; Richard Meares (later Simpson, Crawford & Simpson) at 307 Sixth Avenue in 1865; Stern Bros. at 337 Sixth Avenue in 1867; Benjamin Altman at 331 Sixth Avenue in 1870; H. O’Neill & Co. at 329 Sixth Avenue in 1870; and Ehrich & Co., who later moved to Sixth Avenue, at 270 Eighth Avenue in 1868. It is a very pleasing fact to know that so many of the leading drygoods firms of today were old New Yorkers who commenced business in a small way when the city was small and have kept pace with the city in its wonderful growth. Some of these concerns will soon be celebrating the century mark.
In 1868 the great event in the drygoods business which set the seal of approval on the above-mentioned district as the fashionable shopping district of the city took place. A. T. Stewart & Co. opened their palatial establishment on Broadway and Ninth Street. It was recognized at once as the largest and by far the finest and most important establishment of its kind in the world. It is not too much to say that it is not excelled even down to the present time. Any one paying a visit to the building today cannot fail to admire the interior beauty of its design and the excellent disposition of its departments for the purposes of a retail drygoods store, John Wanamaker proved himself worthy of being the successor of A. T. Stewart, a fact which he has taken justifiable pride in emphasizing. No man was better qualified to perpetuate and develop what A. T. Stewart began.
While the movement of the retail business is still uptown, the business at Broadway and Ninth Street has increased so much that Mr. Wanamaker a few years ago put up a new building on the opposite side of Ninth Street much larger than the old onethe A. T. Stewart buildingand this is pretty good proof that business has gained great impetus under his direction, Perhaps also this indicates that he intends to “stay put” notwithstanding the trend away uptown. It may be that we have reached the staying point in New York and that no more hegiras will disturb the retail drygoods business. But he would be a rash prophet who would make that prediction. In the large cities of Europe business does not move as it does here and yet it increases with the growth of the city. The Bon Marche, for instance, has been in the Rue du Bac for over half a century and is still the leading establishment in Paris. And the same may be said of Peter Robinson and others in London. So, in the case of Wanamaker, whether Mahomet go to the mountain or the mountain to Mahomet, time alone can tell.
John Daniell was at 735 Broadway in 1865 and John Daniell & Sons is at 765 now, just opposite Wanamaker. The business is in the hands of the third generation, and they still pay special attention to silks, laces, embroidery and ribbons, as they did of old. John Daniell was a hard-headed industrious man. He had also an economical bent, for he lived over the store in the early days. His manner was brusque, but beneath the brusqueness there was a cheerful and kindly disposition. Strict in discipline, he gave his son a thorough training for business. Besides mastering the drygoods business young Daniell indulged his inclination for invention and improvement, and was the first to devise the folding-box for holding laces, feathers, ribbons and such articles as were easily injured by handling. He made them in rather crude fashion at first on his own premises and only for use in his own business. Others were soon working along the same lines and ultimately a great business was developed by Robert Gair, of Brooklyn, which has grown to be one of the chief industries of that borough. The Robert Gair Co. has now five great factories along the river front for the manufacture of these and other goods of a kindred nature. These boxes are used in many other lines of business far outstripping the dry-goods in quantity used. In some instances orders for five and ten millions are given at one time. It is amazing to what proportions an insignificant and seemingly negligible idea may grow. But there are others.
When the mail-order business of the retail dry-goods stores began to take shape, many heads were at work to devise a package that would meet the requirements of the Post Office and at the same time provide safety and protection for the goods. One of the first workers along this line was an employee in J. G. Johnson’s at Fourteenth Street and University Place. They did a fine business in millinery and trimmings besides drygoods and could use such an invention to good advantage. Mr. Gallagher, who had charge of one of the departments, succeeded in devising what later became, with some improvements on the original, the clasp envelope, one of the most largely used mailing envelopes in the country.
There was still another. When Leboutillier Bros. was in Fourteenth Street at No. 48 they gave special attention to the mail-order business, and Mr. Good-body, who was manager of the office for many years, saw the opportunity offered in the envelope business. He worked at the idea until he finally devised the Goodbody envelope, which was put on the market and proved to be one of the big successes in this line. Mr. Lemlein, of Stern Bros., had also a device of his own which he used for a long time. There were some others which never reached the importance of being patented, but were used nevertheless and served their purpose, until the mail-order business grew to such proportions as to demand the manufacture of these envelopes in very large quantities and at proportionally lower prices.
In the decade of the 70s the movement to Broad-way and to Sixth Avenue was oompleted and from then on for thirty years the retail drygoods men settled down to develop their respective establishments. It is a strange fact that the great panic of 1873 disturbed this branch of the drygoods business so little. They all weathered the storm, notwithstanding the severity of the panic and the tremendously disastrous effects in other lines. The wholesale drygoods houses felt it much more. To avoid complete wreck and to get the necessary cash, H. B. Claflin & Co. resorted to the scheme of offering their entire stock of goods at prices much below cost for spot cash, but it had to be cash on the spot, nothing else ; and by this means they succeeded in tiding over this great crisis in their career. For a week the retail men from all the nearby towns who could command any ready cash crowded the aisles of Claflin’s big store, picking out the goods they wanted and planking down the much-needed coin. It was a brilliant idea and won out splendidly. But many others went to the wall. In other lines it was worse. Insurance companies went down in heaps, and a walk along Broadway from Fulton Street down revealed the widespread effect of the panic; for almost every other building showed a sign conveying the mournful intelligence that the concern was closed up, and the fact remains that they were swept out of existence as completely as if they had never been. But storms clear the air, and after the rubbish was cleared away New York got into her modern stride and moved along with redoubled energy.
R. H. Macy & Co. did not allow the grass to grow under their feet. After Mr. Macy’s death in 1876 the business passed into the hands of Mr. A. T. LaForge and Mr. R. N. Valentine. Mr. LaForge was the owner of the LaForge kid glove, which had such a vogue at that time. He was a keen business man and doubt-less would have become one of New York’s leading merchants, but his career was unfortunately cut short by his untimely death in 1877, and Mr. Valentine be-came head of the business. Mr. Valentine was related to the Macy family, and during the few years of his life the business continued to progress. It was definitely a department store, and one of the specially lively departments was the notionsor Yankee notionssmall ware of all kinds, as it was designated at that time. There are no Yankee notions so-called now, but it may be said in passing that this idea has been developed into the great 5 and 10-cent stores, of which there are so many now. The F. W Woolworth Co., S. S. Kresge Co. and others have expanded this idea into the enormous business we know today. Mr. Stearn, the head of the notion department of Macy’s at that time, is entitled to a lot of credit for the success which they met with.
The advent of L. Straus & Sons into the Macy business marked the beginning of an epoch for that firm. The Straus’s were the largest importers of glassware in New York and were seeking new outlets for their goods. The Macy store offered a splendid opportunity, for it was fast becoming the most popular store in the city. The venture was a success from the beginning and the glassware department soon occupied the larger part of the second floor. It was managed by men from the Straus firm downtown, and Mr. McDonald, Mr. Burdette and Mr. Tryner who were at its head had been with them many years and enjoyed their entire confidence. Of the trio Mr. Tryner alone remains and is now one of the managers of the immense establishment at Broadway and 34th Street. Sometimes in moments of intimate conversation Mr. McDonald liked to tell about acts of philanthropy done by both Nathan and Isidore Straus which were not generally known. This was long before Nathan Straus took up the pasteurizing of milk for children.
Mr. Valentine did not live to enjoy his rich inheritance a very long time. He was quite a young man and in the prime of life when he died. Mr. Charles Bertram Webster succeeded him in 1879 and became the sole head of the business, continuing as such for many years. He was ably assisted by experienced buyers and managers of the respective departments, both men and women; for women at this time were beginning to demonstrate their capability for business, and R. H. Macy & Co. took full advantage of the fact.
No doubt the old patrons of this store can remember the faithful and patient superintendent, Miss Boyer, whose little office in the middle of the first floor was beset from morning until night by a host of people with complaints, inquiries and difficulties of all kinds from every part of the store, and with what perfect composure and equanimity all these questions were disposed of. Miss Boyer was never ruffled, her voice was always soft-toned and quiet and her manner dignified and respectful. When ultimately she needed an assistant her brother was selected for the position and filled it until the advent of Mr. Pitt.
Before Miss Boyer’s time Miss Miller had the general supervision of the floor. She had been a cash-girl with Mr. Macy almost from the beginning, and showed herself so capable that she rose from the humbler to the higher position in a very few years. But the very first superintendent of all was Miss Goetchel, and she was an indispensable aid to Mr. Macy in the critical years of establishing the business. Of course the business at that time was small compared to that of later years, but even then it required executive ability and careful and constant application, and these qualities Miss Goetchel possessed. She continued as superintendent until she merged her interests with those of Mr. LaForge by becoming his wife. Not long afterward Mr. Macy died and Mr. LaForge succeeded to the business.
People who had occasion to visit the offices of R. H. Macy & Company in the old Sixth Avenue days must remember Miss Abby Golden, the chief cashier. Miss Golden enjoys the distinction of having been associated with the business for a longer period than any other person connected with it, and her tenure of office covers the entire period from the time of R. H. Macy, the founder of the business, down to the present daya remarkable record of service and achievement, which any one might envy.
There were other women, too, in conspicuous positions in this firm. One of them was Miss B. Cushman, buyer of toilet articles and medicinal preparations, one of the most profitable departments of the business. Miss Cushman was undoubtedly a woman of business ability and filled her position with conspicuous success for many years. She was inclined to be a little mannish in appearance and even in manner. Her hair was parted on the side and was always cropped short like a man’s. These little eccentricities amused people, but they did not in any way interfere with business. At all events, her department was always in a flourishing condition.
Miss Kinnear, who assisted Mr. Bowne in the book department, was an indispensable aid to the business. Her knowledge of books was astonishing and her judgment as to their selling qualities was quite phenomenal. She could make friends very easily and customers soon learned to depend upon her advice in the matter of selecting books. Her intuition as to the kind of book that would suit a customer in subject matter and treatment was remarkable. She would approach a customer whom she knew and quietly re-mark, “I think I have a book that will interest you,” and then bring it out for inspection, when the conversation would go on a little further. If a purchase was made it was invariably satisfactory to both parties, and this is surely the very essence of the fine art of selling goods and the only kind of a trade that is worth while.
Mr. Bowne, who was the buyer for this department, was a very shrewd and capable man, but not at all literary in his tastes; on the contrary he was some-thing of a bon-vivant and regarded books from the commercial point of view altogether. Miss Kinnear supplied the other elementsthe selling instinct, coupled with the refinement which a liking for and knowledge of letters gives. So that she was really de facto head of the department although Mr. Bowne carried the honors. However, Mr. Bowne was generous enough to let everyone know her value, and he rarely made any purchases without seeking her counsel. It is still a woman who presides over this department, Miss Guage, and she exemplifies the traditions of the department with eminent success.
Mr. Jerome B. Wheeler came into the business in 1879 and the firm became Webster & Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler had not been in the drygoods business previously, but had had a large experience in big business downtown and was a shrewd and alert business man. He devoted himself chiefly to the office end of the business, but had also much to do with the general policy of conducting it. He was certainly a great worker and always appeared to be very seriously intent on whatever he had on hand. The supervising of the immense detail of such a business was a task to test the most resourceful of men, but Mr. Wheeler succeeded in keeping the wheels moving smoothly so long as he was there. He was rarely seen on the floor or in any part of the store except his own office.
Mr. Webster, on the contrary, was frequently about the store and was conversant with all that was transpiring in the various departments. He was an extremely amiable man and the employees were always glad to see him around and greatly enjoyed his interest in their particular work. He moved about very quietly without any fuss or excitement and had that genial and democratic manner which put everyone at ease and made him the best-liked man in the establishment. The riches that poured into Mr. Webster’s possession in no way changed the genuine goodness of his heart, but rather broadened and deepened the channels of his human sympathies. He had the rare quality of being a “boss” that everybody liked and one who possessed the loyalty as well as the esteem of every employee. It is not at all likely that he would have retired from the business but for failing health, and indeed it is just possible that he continued too long as it was, for he never really recovered his original strength and did not live a great many years after his retirement in 1900.
It was perhaps well for the firm that those keen, experienced and able business menthe Straus’swere so largely interested. Their department had expanded wonderfully and they looked for other worlds to conquer. When Mr. Wheeler retired in 1888 in order to give his whole attention to the large mining interests he had out West, the opportunity of stepping into his place was offered and they became partners in the firm. The new arrangement released Mr. Webster from a great part of his heavy responsibilities, but he continued to be the head of the concern, and a brother, Josiah L. Webster, who was interested with him in the business took a very active part in assisting him.
Some years previous the Thirteenth Street extension to the store was built and several new departments were added. People used to think it strange that a drygoods business should house drugs, medicinal preparations, books, glass, hardware, pottery and other incongruities ; but when the butcher, baker and candlestick maker appeared on the scene the public could hardly hold their breath. However, the grocery department came and soon occupied a whole floor in the Thirteenth Street extension. Mr. Hall, the manager of the department, got right down to business and was soon putting up his own brand of tea, coffee, biscuits, fancy cakes and even canned goods. The small tradesmen on the avenue were disgruntled and many people thought the new departure sounded the death-knell of the old-time grocery store. But no such catastrophe occurred. Business went along humming and many other “drygoods” establishments followed suit. There was plenty of business to go around and everybody was satisfied. When Mr. Hall resigned Mr. Badenock succeeded him and continued to manage the department until a few years ago when he became vice-president of the Park & Tilford business.
But the department-store idea was evidently very expansive, for a candy department appeared in due time and appropriated an extremely valuable section of the first floor-all of which proved its value as an attraction for the public and a profitable adventure for the firm. It looked beautiful and young people flocked to it in droves. It was the first thing that greeted your eyes as you entered at Fourteenth Street, and the abundance and attractiveness of the sweets were irresistible. Here was another opportunity for a live wire to make a showing, and Mr. Bowne, who was in charge, had just the kind of taste and temperament to make a big success. The quality of the goods, of course, was the first consideration; but besides that Mr. Bowne was alive to the fact that the way and style candies are put up has much to do with their acceptability to the purchasers, and the possibilities in that particular direction at that time were great. By the first Christmas he had charge a splendid array of novel shapes and styles in boxes appeared, with special designs in colors showing Christmas scenes in the sunny South and in the frozen North, in homes and on the streets, making a delightful and interesting panorama for the youngsters. Everything that went out seemed to have something novel and striking about it, and the department itself was most brilliant and attractive, with an atmosphere of good cheer which was extremely pleasing to the visitor.
The Macy corner at this season of the year radiated Christmas charm and cheer from every door and window, and the dazzling lights and colors of the interior made a picture to rejoice the hearts of the great throngs of young and old who crowded about the store and would not miss seeing it on any account. The great feature was the window display, usually a moving panoramic device illustrating some of the well-known stories that delight the hearts of children. Window-dressing in the 80s was just becoming a profession. The more important drygoods concerns were sending men to Europe for the express purpose of studying this art, and soon a school of these artists was established in New York and Chicago who ex-celled the old masters of Vienna and Paris.
All along Sixth Avenue the windows blazed with light and the richness and beauty of the displays made the section between Fourteenth and Twenty-third streets the most interesting and attractive part of the city. Sixth Avenue was then at the height of its glory. Besides Macy’s the great retail establishments of B. Altman & Co., Simpson, Crawford & Simpson, H. O’Neill & Co., Adams & Co., Stern Bros., James McCreery & Co., and a host of smaller ones were all in this district, and people from all parts of the city and also from out of town crowded the avenue daily, making it for many years the heart and center of the great retail and shopping business of New York City. But the glory is departed from Sixth Avenue and Broadway, too, and these great establishments have scattered to other parts. A visit to the old quarters recalls the poet’s description of the “banquet hall deserted.”
Those stores had each a reputation for being specially good in some particular line; at least such was the public’s belief. B. Altman & Co. was credited with being the best for ladies’ apparel, cloaks, coats and so forth, especially in the line of seal goods ; and to have the Altman name on your coat or muff or seal collar was equivalent to the hallmark on sterling silver. Simpson, Crawford & Simpson stood high in costumes, H. O’Neill & Co. in millinery and trimmings, Stern Bros. in dress goods, laces and silks, and the real old New York shoppers could discriminate and classify all the way down to the more obscure and unimportant concerns.
Macy’s was the only place where the most popular glove of the day could be hadthe Foster kid glove. It was a new departure in kid gloves, being laced in-stead of buttoned, and could be fastened around the wrist and arm to fit perfectly. Mr. Foster commenced in a small way downtown in Reade Street, and by degrees got his patented article before the public. It seemed to appeal strongly to the ladies and in Macy’s had a great market. The Foster kid glove made an enormous fortune for its owner and for many years was the leading glove in the United States. Mr. Fos-ter was not long in Reade Street; he had to move to larger premises, which he found on Broadway. He also built a large factory uptown on Second Avenue and later owned large factories in both France and Belgium. His estate at Hastings-on-Hudson, which he called Sabin Farm, now occupied by Dr. Shaw of the “Review of Reviews,” is one of the finest on the banks of that beautiful river and looks directly across to the world-famous Palisades. Mr. Foster died a good many years ago, and few of the present generation know anything of the Foster kid glove ; but such is the rapid transition of business and business life in this little old New York of ours !
The Foster business was largely aided by Mr. Jordy, who managed the manufacture of the gloves at the factory on Second Avenue and was the initiator of several of the improvements in the tools and methods of production. Mr. Foster was shrewd enough to send several of his best New York men to manage his factories in Europe, and under their supervision the business showed the real American genius for getting results.
One of R. H. Macy & Co.’s most reliable and able buyers was Mr. Chase, who probably handled more goods in money value than any of the others. He had charge of the white goods, curtains, laces and kindred articles, and was a man of large experience and good judgment. It is not too much to say that he was the best-liked man among the supervising and managing force. His manner was agreeable; he talked to the point and impressed you as a man who knew his book. He could get through an amazing amount of work, and the reason for it was that he cut out all superfluities and got down to real business. He lived regularly, was always on time, took a lively interest in public affairs and was on good terms with the world generally. But perhaps the thing that was most evident to the observer was his intense interest in business-his heart was in his work. Besides looking after the business in the store Mr. Chase also had charge of the manufacturing of the goods for his department. The firm had already gone into the manufacture of many of its own goods, notably the toilet and medicinal preparations. These were made in factories in other parts of the city.
Many of the buyers of these department stores had a very assorted lot of duties. They had all the way from one to six or seven distinct departments to be responsible for. They had their worries at both the buying and selling ends, and their judgment had to cover a multiplicity of goods from a needle to an anchor. Mr. Bowne, for instance, had umbrellas, parasols, stationery, books, magazines, candies, soda water and suppliesall requiring overhauling and replenishing each day. Mr. Wilcox had an infinitesimal number of small articles for his notion departmentgloves, bijouterie and so forth, and Mr. Thompson quite a oomplexity in men’s and boys’ suits and general outfitting. Mr. Bullock, in the millinery department, had the exacting requirements of fashion in feminine taste to suit. It certainly took an active man, and even then the task would have been a difficult one but for the aid of some reliable and usually long-time employee in each of the departments, whose advice and assistance were always at his command.
One of the interesting sights of Sixth Avenue in its heyday was the array of delivery wagons around the stores getting loaded up with packages for the different sections of the city. Thousands of packages large and small had to be distributed, and the labor of packing and assorting them for their respective destinations was a work requiring much care, patience and labor. These were the days of the one horse vehicle, and it was no small matter to house and care for the animals. Time was when customers carried their purchases home with them; but as business increased and developed, improved methods were adopted and more inducements offered the customers, so that in the 80s the delivery department had become a very important part of every retail drygoods business. R. H. Macy & Co.’s was probably the largest at this time, and the responsible head, Mr. William McCracken, had his hands full. He was a great worker, however, and a man of quick wit and intelligence, and had so much of the Irish combativeness and good humor that he managed not only to keep his own department up to the top notch of efficiency, but was able also to take upon himself the duties of purchasing the general supplies for the store.
Mr. McCracken had a strong predilection for the medical profession and, notwithstanding his multifarious duties, found time to indulge it. His spare time was given to the study of medicine and he attended clinics and lectures connected with Bellevue Hospital. The evenings he often spent in the dissecting room of Bellevue. He had a genuine love for the profession, and in the course of time qualified as an M.D. Some old New Yorkers may remember him as an eminent physician in East Eighteenth Street.
Mr. Isidore Straus was often seen about the store after he became interested in the business, and the little office in the center of the main floor, which had always been the observation-point and sort of powerhouse of the establishment, served as a convenient place to overlook and supervise the busiest and most important part of the store. For the crowds were always large on the main floor and often in the afternoon uncomfortably so. Mr. Straus’s attitude was always one of quiet dignity and reserve, entirely without any of the airs which so often accompany authority. Although quite a fluent speaker in public, Mr. Straus was inclined to be reticent in business, but never hesitated when occasion called to express himself with the utmost frankness. He spoke with deliberation and to the point. Although undemonstrative in his manner, there was something in his personality that bespoke kindness and sympathy for his fellow-men. The great tragedy of his death on the Titanic, and the pathetic picture of himself and his wife clasped in each others’ arms going down to their death, evoked a deepfelt admiration and esteem for the man who so heroically could resign himself to the great adventure.
How seldom we think of the business man in the heroic attitude, or even as possessing any of the nobler qualities of human nature. They are all either capitalists or workers, employers or employees, hard and grasping materialists who have no soul and no use for the things that ennoble our nature. But surely Mr. Straus’s tragic but ennobling end lifts the veil to the inner sanctuary of the busy man of affairs and reveals the beautiful things that are all unseen and unsuspected by his nearest and most intimate business associates. As he stood on the deck after the first terrible shock of excitement passed, the cruel waters dashing against the helpless vessel like a pack of hungry wolves leaping on their victim, and the pitiful cries of the drowning filling his ears, his spirit rose to the greatness of a calm resignation, and he passed out of the material world as one who lies down to peaceful dreams. So different from what is commonly thought of the practical, hard-headed business man!
Mr. Nathan Straus was not so much in evidence in the Macy store, but was more often in the public eye. He was a friend of Mayor Hugh J. Grant, and was nominated for that office in 1894 to succeed Mayor Grant, but he declined to run. His great business interests together with his philanthropic schemes absorbed his time and energies and were much more to his liking than politics. Nevertheless, the great success and growth of R. H. Macy & Co. is largely due to this member of the firm.
Mr. Charles Bertram Webster was the head of the business until 1900, when he retired, and with him the old regime passed out of existence. The natural feeling was one of regret that a man so well known to the trade and so well liked everywhere should be compelled by physical infirmity to relinquish a position of such prominence and importance, while yet far from being old; but it was apparent that he needed rest and he had earned it, and he went into retirement with the hearty good wishes of the thousands of employees and business associates who had known and esteemed him so long. When he died some years after-ward (1917) he devised a part of his large fortune to be used for building a home where young women employees of such stores as Macy’s could find comfortable quarters and all the conveniences demanded by modern living at a minimum price. He had not forgotten those among whom he had spent so many years of his life.
Another Sixth Avenue drygoods merchant who be-stowed a benefit on the city was Mr. Benjamin Altman, whose priceless collection of Old Masters and other rare objects of art were left to the Metropolitan Museum and are now exhibited there. Perhaps Mr. Alt man’s natural bent in regard to the fine arts and his excellent good taste and judgment in making his great collection may have had something to do also with the quality and character of the goods sold by B. Altman & Co. The store was patronized by people who were very particular and even fastidious in their purchases, and so well did the firm succeed in satisfying this class of patrons that they enjoyed a reputation for carrying the finest goods in certain lines that could be obtained. For several years when the demand for seal coats was universal, Altman’s was crowded every day through-out the season with customers selecting those elegant garmentsthe London dyed seal coat.
Mr. Altman himself was rarely seen about the store, but he was supported by a very able force of department managers. Mr. Kugelman, who supervised the business, was a very active man and was always in evidence in some part of the store. Being a man of energy and push himself, he communicated his force to others and gave an impetus to the business generally which was very valuable. He was invariably dressed in excellent taste, had a very gentlemanly bearing and altogether measured up to his position with exceptional fitness. When Stern Bros. moved into their large store in Twenty-third Street, Mr. Kugelman transferred his services to them, and there he was the undisputed head so far as the management of the business was concerned. B. Altman & Co. was one of the first of the great drygoods concerns to locate on Fifth Avenue, and their handsome store there is one of the attractive buildings on that world-famous street. Mr. Michael Friedsam, the present managing partner and president of the business, is rightly regarded as one of New York’s great merchants.
Simpson, Crawford & Simpson was not exactly indigenous in New York. Somewhere in the 60s Richard Meares began a small drygoods business at 307 Sixth Avenue and kept moving along with the tide for several years, but in 1878 an enterprising man in the person of Mr. William Crawford appeared on the scene and made a deal by which he became part owner of the business, and in another year Mr. Meares disappeared from the drygoods business entirely and occupied himself running the Hotel Royal further up the avenue, of which he was the owner.
Mr. Crawford was soon joined by the Simpsons, and the firm of Simpson, Crawford & Simpson was established in 1880. It grew with amazing rapidity, taking in the adjoining stores as fast as they could be got. and when finally enough land was secured the hand-some building which still stands there, occupied now as a factory, was erected. Mr. Crawford was a man of great physical strength. He had the large frame and rough exterior commonly attributed to Scotchmen and a reservoir of energy which was practically inexhaustible. He had also the Scotch instinct for making money. Some wit has said that wherever a good thing is you will always find a Scotchman sitting be-side it. Mr. Crawford made a large fortune in the business. He had also large interests in real estate, and when the drygoods business passed into other hands he went into real estate altogether.
Mr. Thomas Simpson was a man of the same type physically as his partner. He was genial and hearty in disposition and made friends easily. .He was a great force in the business, with a seemingly strenuous grasp on life, yet he succumbed to an attack of pneumonia and passed out of the scenes of his interesting work so suddenly that his friends could scarcely realize their loss. The business, however, went on increasing and it was after his death that the store reached the large proportions of the later years. Mr. James Simpson, the third member of the firm, devoted himself chiefly to the office and financial part of the business ; but these three men together made a good combination for the strenuous work of building up a business in this hustling city.
We are apt to focus our attention on the principals in a business, overlooking the fact that many of the employees are valuable and almost indispensable aids and become in time part of the construction. Simpson, Crawford & Simpson had several such. Mr. McCormick, who began as a boy in the store, rose from one position to another until he became the principal figure in the office, and had the entire confidence of the firm. He had a complete mastery of the details of the business and the daily routine of his work never seemed to weary him. He was a good illustration of the adage “keeping everlastingly at it brings success.”
H. O’Neill & Co., on the next block, had become one of the important stores of this district in the 70s and a favorite place for millinery goods, trimmings, ribbons and laces. Whether this was due to Mr. O’Neill him-self or to the persevering industry of Mr. Watson, who was responsible for the department of laces, feathers and such other articles as go with headgear, we do not know; but Mr. Watson was a thoroughly competent man in his particular line and ambitious always to make a good showingand he did. But Mr. O’Neill himself was the undoubted force in the business and did not brook much interference. He was much like his neighbor Mr. Crawford in physical form, having the same ruggedness of body and the strong and rough exterior of the Scotchman. He ruled with a strong hand and there never was any doubt as to who sat at the head of the table. He was not a man to change his mind; when it was made up it generally stayed so. A characteristic of Mr. O’Neill was that he was so constantly on the floor. He had a liking for the movement and activity of the store, and his observing eye took in everything worth seeing.
The cloistered precincts of the office were on the top floor, and there Mr. Thomas ruled as the representative of the head of the firm and administered the rules and regulations according to instructions. He was quiet and gentlemanly in all his intercourse with the outside world, and succeeded in creating an atmosphere of seclusion and orderliness rarely seen in a busy and noisy store such as this. But, although quiet and undemonstrative, Mr. Thomas had the quality of being an excellent counsellor, and to him more than any other Mr. O’Neill resorted when the need of other opinions and judgment to reinforce his own was felt.
No one would have supposed that Mr. O’Neill had deep religious feelings, except perhaps that the sterling integrity of his character might have indicated the fact. But it would seem that, without having any of the outward semblance of the religious man, he must have been possessed of strong and deep convictions on the subject. He never advertised on Sundays and no pressure from any source could move him to do so. He was the main prop as long as he lived of that peculiar but intensely earnest body of Christians called the Scotch Covenanters, and to their church, of which he was the leading member, he contributed with a free and generous hand. There was nothing in his connection with this uninfluential and rather obscure sect to bring him any worldly advantages. He simply belonged to them, as his fathers did, and clung to his brethren with the tenacity and wholeheartedness charaoteristic of his race. There was, perhaps, as much to admire in this little bit of his history as in the whole of his great career as a drygoods merchant. At all events it goes deeper down into the heart and remains as something of permanent value.
Near the corner of Twenty-third Street, forming an L from Sixth Avenue into that street, was the store of Stern Bros. They had been in Sixth Avenue since 1868 and at this corner in 1873. It was in the 70s that all these department stores began to bloom and flourish, and to the New Yorker of that day they seemed to be extremely imposing establishments. Stern Bros. was one of the best and had at that time a clientele very similar to what they have todaypeople who have tried and proved their choice of a store and do not change easily. The class of goods, too, determines the class of customers, for there are all sorts and conditions of menand women.
The man most in evidence in the early days was Mr. Isaac Stern, who was rarely away from the floor and, indeed, the only one supervising things generally. Occasionally his brother Louis would be seen with him and sometimes would take his place. Mr. Isaac Stern was a very busy man, for at that time, besides having a general supervision of the store, he made purchases for the business in general. And this he did wherever he might be found in the store. Few of the drygoods people had at that time any special accommodation for the important work of inspecting goods and selecting what was most suitable for their requirements. Much of this business was done later in the basement of the store, but even here the congestion became so great that a regular mixup was the normal condition. Finally in all of the larger establishments a system was evolved which brought order out of chaos.
Mr. Isaac Stern was extremely taciturn and reserved. Indeed, this was true of all the Sterns. Possibly “Benny” might be put in another class, for he had a streak of democracy that brought him into closer association with his fellow-men; but even then there was just a touch of that aloofness which reminds one of the admonition “keep off the grass.” However, it was always possible to blow away this atmosphere by a sally of good-natured wit, to which all three of the Sterns were extremely susceptible and which completely melted them into the best of humor.
When the concern moved to Twenty-third Street in 1879 there were few business houses in the block between Fifth and Sixth avenues. There were still many residences in it, and many people thought that the location was not well-chosen. Sixth Avenue had quite obsessed the average person, and this was the first break away from a unique section of the city which had been the favorite shopping district of an entire generation. However, the move was soon proven to be a good one, and Stern Bros. could boast now of having the finest building of all their former neighbors.
In the new building a new administration came into power. Mr. Kugelman was the supervising head, and his ability for managing was manifest in the systematic orderliness in which everything moved and in the excellent arrangement of the departments. The goods, too, were displayed to great advantage and altogether the store presented an inviting appearance to the public. The little office at the entrance of Twenty-second Street, which was the headquarters for all the immediate wants of the floor and for such peremptory matters as came up, was a beehive of business, and here Mr. Kugelman and not infrequently one or more of the Sterns found more pressing need for their presence than in the more commodious rooms of the general office. There was life and movement here, and to the live business man such a place is a delight. For many years Stern Bros. in Twenty-third Street was the Mecca for thousands of the most opulent buyers in New York.
In 1896 James McCreery & Co., one of the real old New York drygoods firms, located at the corner of Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue. Previously Booth’s Theatre stood here. It was built by Edwin Booth for the special purpose of reviving the Shakespearean drama. In the basement of this theatre Ed-win Booth burnt all the papers, letters and documents belonging to his brother J. Wilkes Booth; so that this corner was to some extent a historic spot. The building erected in place of the theatre was not as well adapted for a dry goods business as such a fine location demanded; but James McCreery & Co. had been known to several generations of New Yorkers and they had no difficulty in carrying their old-time customers with them and adding many more. They had been at Broad-way and Eleventh Street since 1871, and previous to that had occupied premises at different parts of Broadway further downtown. In the earlier days they were known as a first-class establishment for drygoods, but in the 80s they followed the trend of the business into departments, and their store at Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue became one of the popular stores of that great shopping district. They remained there until the building of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, when they located opposite that famous hostelry.
The firm of Ehrich Bros. belongs to the group of Sixth Avenue department stores, although they did not come into that district until 1890. They occupied a store at 279 Eighth Avenue in 1868 and diligently increased their business there until they became the most important retail establishment of that neighborhood. Two of the brothers, William J. and Louis, managed the business in Eighth Avenue and they were very active men. William J. was extremely ambitious and a great pusher and got through a prodigious amount of work. His nature was such that he had to know all the details of the business and, of course, that kept him busy. When the telephone was introduced his was one of the first concerns to have it installed, and he was so interested in the new device that he was continually at the instrument. It seemed to him of prime importance that he should know all that was going over the wires. To observers it was a matter of amusement to notice this man of many business cares devoting so much of his valuable time to the innovation. But the instrument had a fascination for him.
The brothers were ably seconded by Mr. Bessie, the superintendent, whose patience and amiability won the admiration of every person who came into contact with him. A wonderful ability for managing the many little irritating details of such a business, and a power of controlling the everlasting tendency of inanimate objects to go wrong, were elements in this man’s character which made him a very valuable part of the machinery. But he passed off the stage long before the firm had reached its full development.
Mr. William J. Ehrich was a man of quick intelligence and ready wit. He was a linguist of no mean pretensions and his command of colloquial French was as fluent as that of a native. People as a rule liked him, for although he was quick and impulsive his personality was pleasing and attractive. Had he lived no doubt he would have ranked among our most successful drygoods merchants. But his health began to give way when he was still a young man and he frequently sought relief in change of climate. In one of those temporary sojourns in the Adirondacks, at his summer place on Saranac Lake, he very suddenly passed away, and his death cast a gloom over the guests of the nearby Ampersand, Miller and Alexander houses, by whom he was highly esteemed.
The business was continued by the brothers, who decided to move to Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street in 1890, where Stern Bros. had been. The old building, however, had been enlarged and remodelled and extended down to Twenty-second .Street; so that when they took possession it was one of the large stores on the avenue. It was here that Julius L. and “Sam,” the two younger brothers, came into control, and the business took on a new lease of life. It was continued under their management for a decade or more, but was discontinued when Sixth Avenue became extinct as the great drygoods shopping district.
The Broadway section of this great shopping district was popularly known as “the ladies’ mile,” and it was unquestionably entitled to this distinctive appellation, for the procession of New York femininity which crowded the sidewalk, especially the west side, was unending and presented a most enlivening and interesting scene. The beauty of the New York woman in face, figure and dress was seen here in all its perfection, and it was this fine spectacle that inclined visitors from abroad and elsewhere to declare that the American woman was the handsomest in the world.
In this fashionable district many of the old drygoods firms had settled. Besides A. T. Stewart & Co., James McCreery & Co., Arnold, Constable & Co., Lord & Taylor, and others mentioned above, J. & C. John-stone occupied a fine location at Broadway and Twenty-second Street from 1879 until the business was given up in 1899. Being situated at the corner and extending around Twenty-second Street into Fifth Avenue, they had the splendid advantage of being able to make a fine display in the windows. They did not use the advantage, however, to the same extent as their neighbors, Lord & Taylor, further down, al-though undoubtedly it could have been made a great feature. But some of those Broadway concerns did
not think it advantageous to make a display, contenting themselves with an exhibit of their regular goods, and in some cases nothing at all. Arnold, Constable & Co. rarely exhibited anything at all in their windowsoccasionally a half-dozen umbrellas arranged in fan shape, or perhaps a few lengths of dress goods. Most of the business of those long-established concerns came from old customers of conservative habits and tastes who were not likely to change from one place to another. This class of customers is growing smaller and beautifully less every day, if we may judge from the fine displays made by all the leading concerns of today.
J. &C. Johnstone had some good men in their em-ploy, notably Mr. Wylie, who had entire control of the laces, curtains, white goods and kindred articles, a man of long business experience, of most industrious habits and of fine integrity of character. He was the only one who essayed business on his own account when the firm went out of business. He opened a store on Fourteenth Street, making a specialty of the goods he had handled so long. His venture, unfortunately, did not succeed, and probably the reason was that he had postponed his opportunity until too late in life. He certainly deserved to succeed.
In 1881 at 28 West Fourteenth Street Ludwig & Co. began business. They carried a general line of dry-goods. Mr. Bernhard J. Ludwig was a young man, had saved a little money, was industrious and knew the drygoods business thoroughly. The first two years he had a pretty hard road to hoe, but made headway all the time and had no difficulty in getting the credit he needed. Herman J. and Isidore, his brothers, came into the business in 1885. All three brothers knuckled down to the hard work required and put in many more hours every day than the ordinary workman. However, from the start, business grew steadily and in a few years Ludwig & Co. was one of the largest stores on Fourteenth Street and still exists there as Rothenberg & Co. The Ludwigs sold out in 1895 after they had made a great deal of money. Mr. Ludwig was something of a philosopher. In after years, referring to his success, he would modestly say that the credit was not altogether his. Things seemed to come his way and, while he did not exactly believe in chance, it appeared as if the fates had a good deal to do with it. He went into the real estate business and did equally well in that.
James A. Hearn & Co. is another of the old-time drygoods firms of New York, dating back to 1827. They made successive stops on the way uptown and finally settled in Fourteenth Street in 1879. Between Hearn, just West of Fifth Avenue and Macy at Sixth Avenue, both very popular stores, this street became a very busy mart for shoppers, and the smaller stores between these points became numerous and profited by the attraction. Although Fourteenth Street has so greatly ‘changed in recent years and all the great dry-goods stores have gone further uptown, James A. Hearn & Co. not only continue to hold their trade but to increase it. The foundations of such a business must have been solidly built or the superstructure would not have been so enduring. The founders have passed, but the traditions and policies of the business have been transmitted to able successors and the establishment retains its high place among New York’s great drygoods emporiums. Mr. Clarkson Cowl has been the directing head of the business for many years and has shown those rare business qualities which entitle him to a place among our leading drygoods merchants.
The East side of New York was not by any means a negligible quantity in the drygoods business of old New York. Besides the firm of A. Arnold & Co. in Canal Street in 1842, and Lord & Taylor in Grand Street in 1853, there were many lesser concerns springing up, and in 1850 Edward Ridley commenced business in a small store in Grand Street near Allen Street. Mr. Ridley came from England and had little of this world’s possessions when he landed, but he had a stout heart and a determination to take advantage of the great opportunities the new world offered. He commenced by selling small wares as an itinerant sidewalk merchant, and just as soon as he saved a few hundred dollars he opened the little store which was ultimately to become the largest and most popular department store on the east side. At first, he was able to attend to all the business himself, but it increased rapidly, the store had to be enlarged, and Mr. Ridley gladly added the necessary assistants to meet all requirements. In a very few years he was fairly on his way to success and fortune. Mr. Ridley was a serious, industrious and strong-minded man. He combined much of the old Puritan spirit with the modern adaptability to business conditions. He was very strict without being severe. Being a man of a religious turn of mind the pleasures and display of wealth did not appeal to him. He lived in a modest way in the little village of Gravesend and sometimes occupied the pulpit as a Methodist preacher.
The little village of Gravesend, as it was then, must have appeared to Mr. Ridley very much like a village in his own ancestral home in England. Being one of the oldest settlements on Long Island, it possessed all the beauties and sentiment of age, and no doubt the winding lanes and country roads and the quaint old houses that studded the landscape appealed to his instinct for a quiet domestic life. It was also an interestingly romantic spot from a historic point of view. This old village by the sea had seen the landing of foreign troops and their debouching by the roads and highways toward the battlegrounds of what is now Prospect Park.
It had also sheltered the intrepid Lady Deborah Moody, when she sought refuge from her persecutors in both old and New England, and became the home of quite a colony of English folk who followed in her train. The grant of land given her by Governor Kieft included all of what is now Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, besides a great part of Gravesend. In this latter section she built her home in the year 1643, and this quaint old house, embowered in trees and half hidden by shrubbery and tall growing flowers, still standsa beautiful memorial of this noble, sagacious and able woman. The old home is on Neck Road, now one of the most rurally beautiful roads on Long Island, and it was in this house that Lady Deborah Moody received Governor Kieft and also the sturdy old Governor Stuyvesant, who came quite often to seek counsel and advice from this wise and resourceful woman. The quiet and pleasing atmosphere of Mr. Ridley’s home was a delightful change from the bust-ling and noisy location of his store.
When his sons grew up Edward became a partner in the business and the firm was E. Ridley & Son. The other son, Albert, became interested at a later period. During the reconstruction period following the war there was much confusion and unrest and business affairs were out of joint. It was about this period Mr. William A. Moore, who was a veteran of the war, was employed by the firm and soon became an invaluable aid to the business. In due time he became superintendent and managed the business until it was given up. In the latter years of Mr. Ridley’s life he retired from active participation in its affairs, leaving the control to his son Edward, but Mr. Moore was the man most in evidence and was the active head. The junior Edward was of a retiring disposition, rarely met any of the concerns doing business with the firm and had no association even with the employees. His life was almost like that of a recluse, except that he came to his office in the morning and remained there until the afternoon when he went away. He was rarely seen about the store.
However, there were competent men at the head of each departmentMr. Adams in the millinery, assisted by Albert Ridley ; Mr. Miles, who in later years was known as “Johnny” Miles, the famous wholesale millinery dealer of Broadway; Mr. Lee, assistant to the superintendent and buyer of the general supplies, and Mr. Throckmorton, who had a general supervision over the departments on the main floor. There were also several old employees who had been with the Ridley firm from the beginning. The outstanding feature of the business was the millinery department, of which the firm was extremely proud, and justly so, for they probably sold more trimmed and untrimmed hats and millinery goods than any concern in New York. The department was large and there was always a hand-some display of all the latest styles.
There was an enormous trade in Grand Street from the Eastern District of Brooklyn. There were no stores of any consequence in the Eastern District, and the ferry from South Seventh Street to Grand Street made the trip a short one, and brought this section within easy reach. The merchants on Grand Street all of themseemed to specialize in millinery and they all did a good business. Lord & Taylor had a large share of it, and Lichtenstein, on the block above Rid-ley, did hardly anything else. Brooklyn was the back-bone of all of these concerns, and when the elevated and the bridge diverted the trade, and some new and enterprising firms opened up in this part of Brooklyn, the business of Grand Street began to deteriorate and finally these three big establishments disappeared altogether.
In these days of prohibition it is interesting to re-call the lively campaign of Mr. Lee as the Prohibition candidate for alderman about 1885. He was well-known as one of Ridley’s most active men and had quite a wide reputation. His hobby was prohibition and, of course, he stood out rather prominently in a community where that cult was tabooed. But it made the going all the more spicy for Mr. Lee, and nothing suited him better than to face the hotheads of booze in their own bailiwick. Of course, he was defeated and snowed under when the voting took place ; but he had lots of fun and, perhaps after all, he left an impression which was not entirely without results.
Lord & Taylor’s store in Grand Street was only a short distance from Ridley’s and only two blocks from the Bowery, and these two establishments were the great central emporiums for the drygoods business of the east side. There were still many old and well-to-do American families in this part of the city in the 70s and 80s, and those people naturally gravitated to the great department stores in Grand Street. The best and most wealthy customers came from East Broad-way, Monroe and Rutgers streets. There was also much business from the uptown parts of the city from families who had moved from the east side and still continued to return to their old haunts. But the reputation of these two firms extended far beyond the city limits and was sufficient to attract much business from both Long Island and New Jersey. The Grand Street cars connected these stores with the ferries to New Jersey and Brooklyn, and crowds from the suburban sections were brought to their doors by every car.
It was quite a sight at Christmas time to see the crowds bearing down on these stores, especially in the evening, and gave one some idea of their popularity. It was scarcely possible to find room enough to move in the enormous crush. Perhaps Ridley’s was the most popular, but Lord & Taylor had the more select trade. Children with their parents came in droves to see the display of toys at Ridley’s, and it was no mean show. But they were good spenders, too, and went away loaded to the limit with their purchases. Lord & Taylor eschewed the toy end of the business, but displayed a fine assortment of goods suitable to bring good cheer at that happy season of the year, and perhaps their receipts were as great as their neighbor although the jam of customers was not so dense.
It was rarely that any of the principals of Lord & Taylor’s was seen about the store. Everything was in the hands of Mr. Spencer, who managed the business in Grand Street, with no further interference than the general policy of the concern required, and Mr. Spencer was always on the bridge. Although a man of few words he was always in evidence, and his excellent judgment was shown in the systematic and orderly routine of the business. He was very punctual and had a grasp of the business down to its minutest detail, knowing even many of the minor facts about the several departments. He had the quality of being just, and this quality was very apparent to all who had business dealings with him and made him not only highly respected but also much liked. His clear and incisive way of reaching a conclusion was incontrovertible and convincing.
Under his direction Mr. Hendricks did a considerable share of the less onerous details of the business, and there were also the buyers and heads of the several departments, each of whom in his own place contributed to the success of this long-established concern. One of the most important of these was Mr. Adams, who was the head of the millinery departmenta man of long experience in this particular line, who probably knew more about hats and trimmings than any other man in that section of the city, and this is saying a great deal for Mr. Adams ; but, nevertheless, the millinery business of Grand Street at that time was an all-important part of the great drygoods business of the east side. When the rapidly changing conditions of the east side made it apparent that a large and first-class drygoods establishment would become an entirely out-of-place institution among the thousands of new-comers to the east side, Lord & Taylor wisely merged their Grand Street business with their Broadway store.
These were the days of long hours. Midnight on Saturday was the usual hour for closing in the holiday season, and all through the rest of the year eight o’clock was the customary hour. It was only after the early closing movement among drygoods clerks took shape that the hours were cut down to 7 p.m. and then to 6 p.m. But no doubt the needs of the people of the east side necessitated keeping open Saturday evenings, for the stores were invariably busy then and a very considerable part of the day’s business was done after 6 o’clock. Even today the smaller stores that have taken the place of these large establishments are as busy as beehives at night. On the other days of the week hours were from 8 to 6.
A curious and generally unknown fact concerning these stores was the loss sustained by them through the destructive activities of rats and mice. The loss in Ridley’s alone amounted to $5,000 a year, and notwithstanding all their efforts at prevention it was impossible to make their losses less. For a long time this firm engaged a professional ratcatcher, who did much to mitigate the evil ; but although he succeeded in cutting down the losses considerably he never quite succeeded in exterminating these persistent and destructive little animals. At his storeGrand Street, west of the Boweryamong his interesting collection of animals he had quite a number of the little pests who chewed up the silks and satins of these stores with such remorseless avidity.
On the other side of the account, however, they were compensated to some extent by the number of articles recovered from the waste and sweepings of the floors. Before the present system of wrapping and checking of goods was introduced, and at a time when a very large proportion of the customers carried home their purchases with them, this detail of the business was done with less regard to system, care and exactness than now. The cry of “boy ! boy !” was continually in your ears, and the little shavers who responded were more inclined to play than work, and only the stern eye of the floorwalker kept them in order; so that between the handling of the articles behind the counter and the transmission of them to the wrapper and back, many inconspicuous things were dropped. There were other ways, too, in which these lost articles found their way to the floor and ultimately into the wastebasket. These were carefully gone over and often very valuable finds were made.
One of the old employees of the Lord & Taylor store, Mr. Andrew M. Bullock, remembers several incidents well worth recording. The old “apple woman” used to make her appearance regularly every afternoon with her tempting basket of fruit, and dispose of most of her stock before leaving. Clerks and customers alike would purchase apples from her, and they could be seen in all parts of the store, even behind the counters, enjoying this afternoon repast. The modern New Yorker would look on such a custom with wonder and amazement, and it certainly would be impossible in our progressive day ; but it marks the time when our good old city had a very genial democracy. Making the world safe for democracy seems a very difficult task just at present, but it flourished then like a green bay tree without any assistance at all.
Another incident of peculiar interest in connection with the Lord & Taylor store was the patriotic action of the employees at the time of the draft riots in 1863. One hundred men marched from the store to the arsenal at Thirty-seventh Street, procured arms and am-munition and returned to guard the store. Cases of goods had been placed around the store as a barricade, and with the hundred loyal employees ready for action the store became quite a powerful fortification for the defence of law and order.
Mr. Bullock also remembers when this firm had only one delivery wagon, and this wagon was used for the delivery of carpets and oilcloths only. Shoppers generally took all parcels home with them, and the larger packages for Williamsburg and Brooklyn were delivered by a man engaged for that purpose. He did them up in two large bundles, with a strap around them, left the store every day between 4 and 5 o’clock and spent the next morning delivering the goods, returning to the store just in time to go out again next afternoon. Large packages were delivered in the city by junior clerks on their way home, and their carfare paid as compensation. No goods were returnable when once bought and there were no credit books. Most of the clerks were men, and the few women employees were in charge of the cloaks and suits. Six men slept in the store in the upholstery department on the second floor as watchmen, and they all had revolvers. In the daytime they were salesmen and clerks. The lunch place for the clerks was at 1 East Broadway and was known as Mother Betsy’s, or the Bean Hotel.
This section is not likely to see such drygoods establishments again. The character of its population has changed. There seems to be a mixup of all kinds of peoplea polyglot community which perhaps represents the melting pot idea better than any other great aggregation of people in America. Ethnically; it is a little Europe all by itself, and these antagonistic peoples live together much closer than they did in their old home lands, yet they all pursue the even tenor of their way. without the slightest desire to fly at each other’s throats, as they ought to do according to the rules of the game in the beautiful and interesting lands from which they came. There must be some-thing uncommonly sweet and soothing in the social atmosphere of Uncle Sam’s domains.
There was one other old-time department store on the east side of the city, but far removed from the Grand Street sectionBloomingdale Bros., in the Yorkville district. In the early 70s this firm had a trim little store of the usual size and dimensions for those days at 938 Third Avenue, consisting of one floor with a central entrance and one window on either side of it. The floors above the store were used as living apartments and between each floor a sign stretched across the building. On top of the housea three-story brick buildingwas a large device representing a bee-hive, and the legend on one of the signs, “Great East Side Bazaar.”
At this stage of the business Bloomingdale Bros. gave precedence to skirts, corsets and fancy goods, as announced on one of the signs, and their windows were dressed with samples of the goods. On the signs under the windows were “Gloves” and “Hosiery.” They sold the kind and quality of goods that were in demand by a population of thrifty and prosperous working people, and served them so well that the Bloomingdale establishment soon outgrew the limits of the modest little store at 938 Third Avenue, and the next decade finds them in greatly enlarged premises and the center of activity of the retail business of that entire section of the city. The business here followed the usual course. Department after department was added, more and more floor space required, and a consequent enlargement of the building until today this great structure extends all the way from Third to Lexington Avenue, and taking in a large part of 59th and 60th streets.