Archive for January, 2011

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT STORES – MAY COMPANY CALIFORNIA

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Downtown LA – May Company (after addition)

MAY COMPANY – CALIFORNIA – The Largest Department Store in the West

In 1923, the May Company based in St. Louis, Missouri, bought Hamburger’s in Los Angeles and re-named it May Company California. The May Company itself had started in 1877 in Leadville, Colorado, specifically to serve the silver miners. The May Company Department Stores expanded by moving to Denver and later purchasing Famous Brothers in St. Louis. It then moved to St Louis and merged with William Barr Dry Goods in 1911 to create Famous Barr. With the 1923 acquisition of the large Hamburger store in Los Angeles, it entered the California market.

For the first 15 years, the May Company California division focused on the downtown Los Angeles store. The first branch store was opened in 1939, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax. Even though the Great Depression did not hit California hard, the May Company remained cautious. They did know that they needed a store in Western Los Angeles as that was where the population growth was happening. In 1947, after WWII, they opened a store in the Crenshaw shopping area where many of the aircraft plant workers lived. In 1952, they opened a large store in Lakewood, near the Douglas plant and airfield. Afterwards, the company began opening a new suburban store every year or two until their stores captured significant market share in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and San Bernardino counties.

Like Broadway Stores, May Company was a mid-tier department store chain catering to the broad value oriented customer. The company developed strong merchants and, although highly promotional, they were great at following the fashion trends. I remember in the 60’s and 70’s when the juniors revolution was taking place, the May Company – California stores had a junior area that captured the times as well as the best junior specialty retailers. May Company was hot! In those days May Company California was a major profit producer for May Department Stores Company.

In later years, the May Company California expanded outside of California as the parent company bought Goldwater’s (Arizona) and incorporated the Goldwater’s Las Vegas store into a May Company California store.

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s May Company California stores started to show wear as the stores were not well-maintained under the expense control programs being implemented. The company still maintained strong merchandising programs and the May Department Stores Company became known for making money through effective merchandising. However, the California division was hurt by executive turnover and corporate programs that influenced and limited local merchandising.

In 1993, after the May Department Stores Company acquired Associated Dry Goods Company, the Associated’s W.J. Robinson & Company division was merged with the May Company California stores to form Robinsons-May. Robinson’s was an upper-tier department store operation and the merger of these two businesses first created some difficulties. When Bob Mettler became responsible for merchandising the problems seem to end as he differentiated the merchandising for the stores based upon local markets. He also brought a new level of enthusiasm to merchandising and buffered the merchandising team from the corporate merchandising pressures.

In 1984, the original store at 8th and Broadway was closed. The headquarters had moved out of that building years before. This area of downtown Los Angeles had deteriorated significantly.

In 2006, after the May Department Stores Company was acquired by Federated Department Stores, the Robinsons-May division was closed and the stores were converted to Macy’s or sold.

What happened?????   Although May Company California was a strong and aggressive merchandising organization, they, like others, had difficulties facing increased competition. Nordstrom, Mervyn’s, Target, a reinvigorated J.C. Penney, Costco, and others were taking market share and operated with lower costs. The May Company reduced expenses in a manner that resulted in a less than pleasant shopping environment. Corporate turnover and control also caused problems and eventually ended local merchandising programs. In the end, the collapse of the parent company ended May Company California.

I have posted postcards of the downtown Los Angeles store, the Wilshire store and the Crenshaw store. Postcards of the downtown LA store are listed under Hamburger’s, the company May Company purchased in 1923. Postcards of the newer May Company California stores are, in my mind, not important for this blog. The newer stores were just big boxes with no architectural importance.

May Company Downtown LA 1930′s

May Company California – Store at Fairfax and Wilshire Blvd -1940

May Company Store at Fairfax and Wilshire Blvd. Miracle Mile 1960′s

May Company California – Crenshaw Store 1940′s

Northern California Department Stores – City of Paris – San Francisco

Friday, January 28th, 2011

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CITY OF PARIS DRY GOODS COMPANY

City of Paris – 1904

Felix Verdier owned a silk-stocking manufacturing company in Nimes, France.  In 1850 he chartered a ship, Ville de Paris, to bring silks, laces, and fine wines, champagne, and cognac to San Francisco. His ship was met in the Bay by boatloads of newly wealthy 49ers, brandishing bags of gold. As the story goes, he sold all the products before the ship was even docked. Felix Verdier immediately returned to France and reloaded with fresh merchandise destined this time for the store he opened at 152 Kearney Street and named the City of Paris.

The City of Paris became the premier department store in San Francisco.  By 1896, a larger store in a Beaux-Arts design featuring an open atrium was built at Stockton and Geary Streets. In 1906, the big earthquake and resulting fires destroyed much of the store’s interior. A temporary store was established on Van Ness while the interior was redesigned by John Bakewell and Arthur Brown. Its open atrium was topped with a magnificent stained glass dome depicting the ship, Ville de Paris.

The rebuilt store became a showcase for retailing in San Francisco. It was opulent and continued to be stocked with merchandise of French design and manufacture. The liquor department was well regarded for its French influence as this was before the development of Napa Valley. Brentano’s took over the book department and became the largest volume bookstore west of Denver. Every Christmas season, the store set up a beautifully decorated tree in the Atrium. Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist, deemed it the official Christmas tree for San Francisco. Reportedly, he tree was 50 to 60 feet tall.

In the 1960’s, the City of Paris’ fortunes declined. It was no longer as highly profitable as consumer tastes changed and competitors became stronger. Macy’s, for example, had copied the basement theme of the Normandy Lane in the City of Paris and created The Cellar. (Later, Macy’s took The Cellar concept to their other stores and divisions.) The Verdier family decided to close the store in 1972. I think there are many who will remember the KFRC radio station studios which were on the first floor so pedestrians could see the studios through the window.

The City of Paris did open suburban branches. They opened one in Vallejo in the 1940’s. They also opened boutique shops in some of the better hotels. The branch stores never proved highly successful.

After the closing, Amfac bought the store in San Francisco and converted it to their Liberty House department store division. The new store was called Liberty House at the City of Paris. Liberty House quickly discovered that it was a difficult facility to operate on a profitable basis so they built a new store next door on Stockton Street. They sold the old building to Neiman Marcus who immediately announced plans to demolish the landmark building and replace it with a modern store.

The reaction in San Francisco to the announced destruction of this landmark was unbelievable. Herb Cain, the noted columnist, took on the fight as did many of the citizens of San Francisco. Although the building was not saved, an agreement was reached in which the dome and some of the important historic décor was saved and put into the new store. The replacement store is an important part of the retailing community in San Francisco as the dome has been preserved and Neiman Marcus is a respected retailer. The new fake tree at Christmas, unfortunately, does not meet the standards of the citizens who remember the old City of Paris tree.

What happened????     Many things worked in the favor of the City of Paris. The upscale shopping district moved from Market Street to the Union Square area. Unfortunately, City of Paris remained a small retailer with little market clout. In addition, consumer tastes were changing as apparel brands were becoming strong. American wines were also growing stronger. Most importantly, I. Magnin’s was located across the street and had captured the carriage trade. Macy’s California was under the leadership of Ed Finkelstein and he upgraded that chain from a promotional value oriented department store to one with style and a healthy upper moderate merchandise mix. He developed The Cellar concept and went after the younger customers with successful Junior and Young Mens departments. Most importantly, the Macy’s San Francisco main store was also on Union Square and its excitement drew many customers. I also believe that the succeeding family members did not have the interest or flair to take the store where it needed to go to be competitive.

I remember the City of Paris well. Every back to school season and for many Christmas seasons my family would visit the retail stores in San Francisco. The City of Paris store was something we always had to see even though we could not afford much of the merchandise the store carried. We always came to see the Christmas tree! When I was at Bullock’s I would continue to visit the store on trips to San Francisco. I watched the store in decline, but it was still an example to me of a store carrying unique product, with historic design and décor, and with superior customer service.

At the time the building was to be demolished, a colleague from Bullock’s was the head of Neiman Marcus. He could not understand why the citizens were so upset since the building was of a design that could not be operated on a profitable level. He did want the location so he worked to a compromise to save the dome and some of the decor. Most older San Franciscan’s still cannot accept the outside architecture of the store. To them the new building looks like a typical suburban store (without windows) plopped onto a city corner.

1906 – After the Earthquake and Fire. Structure Sound/Inside Burned

City of Paris – 1905 – Camp Crocker on Union Square

City of Paris – 1910 -Celebration

Union Square – 1904 – City of Paris

Union Square – 1915 – City of Paris (Note: Dohrman’s Across Street)

Union Square – 1944 – City of Paris – (Note: I Magnin Replaces Dohrman’s)

City of Paris – 1907 – Temporary Store After Earthquake on Van Ness

City of Paris – 1911 – After Earthquake Renovation

Rotunda 1915

City of Paris – Christmas Tree – 1911

City of Paris – Christmas Tree in Atrium

City of Paris – Christmas Tree – 1950′s

Christmas Tree 1961

 

I hope all who shopped or worked at the City of Paris Dry Goods Company will feel free to memorialize their impressions of this beautiful store by writing in the COMMENTS section below.

NOTE: Please do not copy any of these postcards without the written permission of John Plummer. These cards took years to collect.

Department Stores in Southern California – J.W. Robinson & Co

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

The Boston Store – Los Angeles – 1910

J.W. ROBINSON & CO – Los Angeles

James Winchester Robinson opened his first store in 1881 under the banner of The Boston Store. The original store was located at Spring and Temple Streets. In 1914, the name was changed to J.W. Robinson & Company and it moved to a new location at 7th and Grand in a building designed by Noonan and Richards. In 1934 the building was modernized by Edward L. Mayberry. The downtown store had six floors of selling space. On the seventh floor were the restaurants, the beauty salon, and customer service. The women’s rest area and lavatory were reputed to be exquisite.

Robinson’s catered to the carriage trade as did Bullock’s and Coulter’s. The store presented better fashions and offered excellent customer service. For years the store competed well with Bullock’s in the downtown market because it was located west on 7th street in an area attractive to the upper-end customers.

In 1957, the company was acquired by Associated Dry Goods and became their fashion headquarters for the West.

In 1952, the company opened its first branch store in the Beverly Hills market. Robinson’s needed that store to capture the carriage trade: customers that were now shopping at Bullock’s, I. Magnin’s, and Sak’s stores located out on Wilshire and at the specialty shops on Rodeo Drive. Even Coulter’s had closed its downtown store and moved to Wilshire. Later, Robinson’s opened a winter-only store in Palm Springs to serve the customers who wintered there. Other suburban stores opened in Panorama City, Anaheim, Santa Barbara, Glendale, Pasadena, Newport Beach, Cerritos, Woodland Hills and the City of Industry.

In 1986, Associated Dry Goods was acquired by The May Department Stores Company (St. Louis). In 1993, the Robinson’s division of Associated Goods was merged with the May Company Southern California division to form Robinson’s May. This was a difficult marriage as May Company was targeting the moderated market and Robinson’s catered to the carriage trade. In 2005, after the acquisition of The May Company Department Stores by Federated Department Stores, the stores were either renamed Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s or were sold.

What happened????      Although Robinson’s had relatively good positioning in Los Angeles, it relied too long on its one store downtown. It did not have the clout with vendors to develop exclusive relationships. As the customers moved west to Beverly Hills and south to Orange County and  when the downtown retail market declined, Robinson’s was slow to expand and gave up market share to Bullock’s, I. Magnin’s, Sak’s, and other retailers. Robinson’s started to rebound when Michael Gould became the CEO, but he did not get full support from the parent, Associated Dry Goods. When it merged with May Company, the company quickly lost the carriage trade customer.

I knew Robinson’s well as a competitor when I worked at Bullock’s. The downtown LA and the Beverly Hills stores were well-maintained and operated at high customer service levels. The management was not known as sophisticated. The management development program was not strong so the company was never able to develop talented merchants. I remember when the Attorney General for California looked into price fixing amongst the Southern California department stores. They found a folder amongst the corporate office files at Robinson’s entitled “Price Fixing Agreements”.

I wish there were postcards showing the interior of this wonderful store. I have only one which shows the women’s restroom. As soon as I locate it I will post it.

New Downtown LA J.W. Robinson Store Drawing

J. W.Robinson & Company – Los Angeles – 1917

J. W. Robinson & Company – Los Angeles – 1920′s

J. W. Robinson & Company – Los Angeles – 1920′s

J. W. Robinson & Company – Los Angeles – 1940 – After ‘Remuddling’

Utopia Yarn/ J.W.Robinson & Co – 1940

Rogers Peet Suits/J.W. Robinson & Co. – 1941

J.W. Robinson & Co. – Beverly Hills Store

J. W. Robinson & Company – Newport

Department Stores in Southern California – The Broadway

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

The Broadway . Original Store 1900

The Broadway Department Stores was founded in 1896 by Arthur Letts, Sr, an English immigrant. He built his first store on Broadway at Fourth Street, farther south on the street than the other retail establishments. His store, targeting the cost-conscious customer, was an immediate success and led to the 1920′s replacement of the building with a new, larger facility at the same location. In 1907, Mr. Letts funded two of his best employees, John Bullock and P. G. Winnett, to form Bullock’s at Seventh & Hill Streets.

The Broadway acquired the B.H. Dyas Specialty Emporium on Hollywood Blvd during the beginning of the Great Depression. This gave Broadway an important store in West Los Angeles. This store later declined with the decline of Hollywood Blvd and the growth of Beverly Hills.

The Broadway Street store was closed in 1973 and reopened at the newly built Broadway Plaza on Seventh Street. In later years, Broadway acquired many competitors to become a major retailer operating in the Southwest (Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Acquisitions included: Coulter’s (Los Angeles), B.H. Dyas (Los Angles), Milliron’s (Los Angeles), Walker’s (Long Beach), and Marston’s (San Diego). In 1979, Broadway was split into two divisions, Broadway Stores based in Los Angeles, and Broadway Southwest based in Phoenix.

The Broadway merged with Hale Stores (Sacramento) in 1950 to form Broadway-Hale Stores. This put Hale Stores (Sacramento/San Francisco), Weinstock Lubin (Sacramento), and Broadway under one company ownership. In 1969, the company acquired Emporium-Capwell. Emporium was based in San Francisco and Capwell’s was based in Oakland. In 1969, CHH acquired the three unit Neiman-Marcus chain based in Dallas. In 1972, the company acquired Bergdorf-Goodman (New York), Holt-Renfrew (Montreal), Sunset House (Los Angeles), and Waldenbooks (Stamford, Ct). In 1977, CHH attempted to takeover Marshall Fields, but was unsuccessful. Licking their wounds they ended up taking over the troubled John Wannamaker chain based in Philadelphia. In 1979, the company acquired Contempo Casuals based in Los Angeles. For a time, CHH also held a major interest in the House of Fraser which included Harrod’s. Through all these acquisitions the company increased sales and debt but profits remained low. The company was ripe for a takeover and Limited stepped up to the plate in 1984 and 1986. To fend off the takeover, CHH spun off the Specialty Group (Neiman Marcus, Contempo Casuals, and Bergdorf Goodman), sold Waldenbooks to Kmart, sold Thalheimers to the May Company, sold Wannamaker’s to Woodward & Lothrop, and Holt Renfrew to the Weston family. In 1991, CHH filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 1992, the Zell/Chilmark fund took the company out of bankruptcy and formed a new company called Broadway Stores, Inc. A new management team was recruited led by Mr. David Dworkin. Unfortunately, this new team misread the customer base and took Broadway Stores into a direction which proved disastrous. In 1995, the Zell/Chilmark organization sold Broadway Stores to Federated Department Stores. Within months the headquarters were closed and the stores were converted to Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s or were sold to Sears and other retailers.

What happened???      The Broadway never had the merchandising talent in fashion found at the competitors. It had few exclusive relationships with vendors and, because it was targeted towards the value-driven customer, it faced stiff competition from Sears, the rejuvenated J.C. Penney Company, discount stores and specialty retailers. Because the parent company was deep in debt due to the aggressive acquisitions, the Broadway did not have the funds to invest in the maintenance of their stores. The facilities were showing wear, carpets worn, and the fixtures and decor were outdated. Broadway also fell into advertising addiction; they relied heavily on costly advertising to drive whatever customer traffic they had. Most importantly, employee morale was low as the value of their profit sharing retirement plan declined with the company’s eroding performance. Probably the largest portion of blame goes to the lack of leadership at Carter Hawley Hale, the parent.  Competitors lovingly called the company Carter Farter & Hoopla. Reportedly, the Wall Street Journal commented … God gave them Southern California and they blew it”.

The downtown store on Broadway Street was kept open far longer than it should have. The store in the later years was in a transitioning area of downtown LA, surrounded by closeout shops, closed theatres, and empty store fronts. The store had narrow wooden escalators which were scary to use and very noisy. You could hear the thump, thump of the escalators all over the store. At the end, the store misrepresented the brand as the merchandise assortment was targeting a customer in the lower income strata.

Broadway Store During Shriner Convention . 1907

New Broadway Store. Los Angeles. 1930

Millinery Department – Broadway

The Broadway . Drapery Department . 1907

Corset Department . 1907

Drapery Department 1907 Another View

Fourth Floor Restaurant . 1907

New Eighth Floor Restaurant . 1930′s

Garden Restaurant . 1930′s

Broadway . New Van Nuys Store

Broadway Santa Card (reverse side below)

Reverse of above Santa card

Home of The Broadway Founder

More on the home of the founder of The Broadway

Founder’s Home in Hollywood

The Broadway . Employee Handbook . 1920

1920 Broadway Handbook pgs 2 & 3

Employee Handbook pgs 4 & 5

The Broadway . Employee Handbook . pgs 6 & 7

Employee Handbook . The Broadway. 1920 . pgs 8 & 9

The Broadway . Employee Handbook. pgs 10 & 11 . 1920

Note: Please do not make any copies of these postcards without the permission of John Plummer. It has taken years and a great deal of expense to compile this collection.

New Jersery Department Stores – Newark – Hahne & Company

Monday, January 10th, 2011

HAHNE & COMPANY

Downtown Newark 1905

Hahne and Company was founded in 1858 by Julius Hahne. The first store was a specialty store and later grew into an up-scale department store known for catering to the carriage trade and for friendly service.

In 1906 a new store was built on Broad Street in downtown Newark. The 441,000 square foot building had four floors plus a basement. An atrium in the center of the building allowed sunlight into all the floors to compensate for the lack of good electrical lighting.)

To the delight of the children, the basement had a merry-go-round. The Toy department was also located in the basement along with Housewares, Small Electrics, Sporting Goods, Luggage, Televisions, and the Budget Store.

The store had two restaurants. The Pine Room, a wood paneled fine dining area on the street level, was formal and until the late 1970’s had a dress code for patrons.  The Maple Room, located in the basement and offering counter service, appealed to downtown workers. It closed in the 1980’s when the basement selling floor was closed.

In 1929, the company opened the first suburban store in Montclair, New Jersey. Later, suburban stores were opened in Westfield, Livingston, Monmouth, Quaker Bridge, Woodbridge, and Rockaway.

Hahne and Company was a founding member of Associated Dry Goods when the company formed in 1916. Other founding members included: H.B. Clafin & Co (NYC), Lord & Taylor (NYC), Stewart & Co (Baltimore), Heneger’s (Buffalo), and J.N. Adam & Co. (Buffalo). This grouping of companies helped each division secure needed financing and also helped combine buying power.

What happened????     The company became too focused on its downtown store in Newark. As a result, when the Newark retail market declined in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the business did not stand out in the New Jersey market. A&S, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale’s moved into the better suburban markets in New Jersey and left little room for Hahne’s. In 1986, the parent, Associated Dry Goods, was sold to The May Company Department Stores. The downtown store closed in 1987 and the corporate headquarters were moved to the newly acquired store in Paramus. Since there was not much difference between a Hahne’s store and the May Company’s Lord & Taylor division, the decision was made to close the Hahne’s stores and replace some with Lord & Taylor stores.

In the late 1970’s while working for A&S, I visited many of the Hahne’s stores. One of my colleagues from Bullock’s had also joined the company. I found the stores to be wonderful up-scale stores with excellent customer service. However, the stores were never full of customers and you could see the facilities were in need of new investment.

Hahne & Co – 1906

Hahne & Co – 1906

Hahne & Co. – 1907

50th Anniversary – 1908

Golden Jubilee/50th Anniversary – 1908

Hahne & Co – 1910

Hahne & Co – Inside Atrium – 1910

Hahne & Co. – Santa Greetings – 1906

NOTE: These postcards are part of the Plummer Collection. You will need permission from John Plummer at Plummer & Associates to reprint or copy any of these postcards.

Southern California Department Stores – Hamburgers

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

HAMBURGERS/Peoples Store

Downtown Los Angeles . 1910

Alex Hamberger opened his first store, The People’s Store, on Main Street in Los Angeles. Because of the success of that store, he opened A. Hamburger & Son  in 1908 in a new building at 8th & Broadway Streets. The building was Beaux Arts and designed by Alfred F. Rosenheim, a well-regarded architect. The store boasted as having the ‘largest aisle in the West”. The building offered open floors. The Arrow Theatre was located on the fifth floor. The store served the value-oriented customer in Los Angeles. Probably the biggest mistake was to locate the store at 8th and Broadway Streets, one block south of Bullock’s at 7th and Broadway. By then the better stores started to move West on 7th Street. In 1923, the partners of the May Department Stores Company acquired Hamburger’s and converted the store’s name to May Company. Later it became known as May Southern California. The building was closed as a retail store in the 1980′s. Today, the building is the home to the Broadway Trade Center. Hamburger’s claimed the store was the largest in the West. It also boasted about the length of the main aisle and the openess of the construction.

For more history of this retail building,  I refer you to our blog on May Company in Southern California.

Postcard of the Hamburger’s store are shown below. If there is anyone around who has memories of Hamburger’s before it became May Company, I hope you will memorialize your experiences in the Comments Section for others to see and enjoy. Obviously, I only knew the downtown building when it was occupied by May Company- Southern California. My family did tell me that the original store was Hamburger’s, but they did not tell me much about the store other than that there was a public library in the building.

Downtown Los Angeles . 1920

Mail Aisle

Dental and Manicure Departments

Women’s Shoes/Men’s Clothing

Silver & Jewelry/Ladies Restroom/Pictures/Art

Millinery/Trimmed Hats/Coaks/French Gowns

Furniture/Piano/Doll/Drapery/Infant Wear Departments

Soda & Candy/Cigar/Drug/Book Departments

Dinnerware/Cut Glass/Home Decor/Lamp Departments

Broadway and Eighth September 1909 Celebrating Elk’s Convention

NOTE: These postcards are part of the Plummer collection. You must have John Plummer’s written permission to copy or reproduce any of these postcards.

Department Stores in Southern California – Bullock’s

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
  Bullocks Downtown Los Angeles – 1907 – Grand Opening

In 1907, John Gillespie Bullock and Percy Glen Winnet opened Bullock’s at the corner of 7th & Broadway Streets in downtown Los Angeles. The two had worked at The Broadway and convinced Arthur Letts, Sr, founder of The Broadway to back them in this new retail venture  targeting the more up-scale customer. The store grew over the years as it acquired buildings on 7th Street between Hill and Broadway; one of the buildings was a competing department store. In 1923, John Bullock and P. G. Winnet bought out Arthur Lett’s interest.

In 1929, the company opened its first branch store on Wilshire Boulevard. This luxury Art Deco designed  store targed the wealthy as they moved to the nearby Hancock Park neighborhood from the downtown’s West Adams district.  Later, the Bullock’s Wilshire store became a separate division within Bullocks. For years Bullock’s Wilshire merchandised the store in Palm Springs which only operated in the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. The Palm Springs store served the Hollywood community with winter homes in that area.

Bullock’s was known as a chain which targeted the better customer and provided unparalled customer service. The company had approximately 65 buyer/managers in each store until 1970. Up until then, the company believed that having buyers in each store for each department helped provide a localized assortment. However, it was hard for Bullock’s to buy from larger manufacturers as each store could not meet minimum quantity orders. The company did have exclusive relationships with key better vendors which helped it retain the better market position.

The third suburban store was opened in Pasadena (it was designed to be converted into a hotel if it did not succeed as a store). Later the chain continued to expand with stores in Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Ana, Torrance, Lakewood, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County, Las Vegas, Pheonix, and San Diego.

Bullock’s acquired  I.Magnin & Company in 1944 to form Bullocks-Magnin. In 1964, publicly held Bullocks-Magnin was acquired by Federated Department Stores. This was a hostile takeover. P.G. Winnet, the founder, opposed the sale. His son-in-law, Walter Candy who was President, was for the sale and gathered support of the management team.  Abe Fortes, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, was the attorney representing Federated. (Note: Bullock’s in Northern California was a separate division of Federated Department Stores.) This acquisition affected both Bullock’s and Federated for many years.  First,  many of the management team were protected for supporting Mr. Candy and the Federated acquisition so it was agreed that directional and management changes would not be made for five years. That is one of the key reasons Bullock’s did not convert to central merchandising until 1970. P.G. Winnet mostly continued working out of the Bullock’s-I Magnin offices but did visit stores and was known for pinning candy on sales people who he recognized as outstanding. Secondly, Federated was restricted from further growth through acquisition. The Justice Department was concerned that Federated was gaining too much share of the department store sector which at the time was the largest individual segment in the retail industry.

In 1988, Bullock’s was sold to the R.H.Macy Company as Federated was owned by Campeau and needed cash. As Macy’s-Atlanta took over merchandising,   Bullock’s lost its better positioning. As I understand it, under Macy’s store gross margin production shrank dramatically. In 1995, Bullock’s name was formally changed to Macy’s. Now, all the Bullock’s sites are known as Macy*s or Bloomingdales since the R.H. Macy Company was acquired by Federated Department Stores.

Bullocks was known for:

  • Merchandise assortments which trended towards better.
  • Higher quality salespeople who were focused on customer service.
  • Strong fashion presentation with upgraded and well-maintained stores.
  • Special events.

What happened???       When Federated Department Stores acquired Bullock’s it was a leader in Southern California but was marginally profitable. As management changes were made the company became highly profitable and in a dominant market position because the company secured top merchandising talent, invested in systems, and had the capital from Federated Department Stores to upgrade facilities and to expand into new markets. The downtown store continued to slide as the market demographics changed, the Southern California transportation system collapsed, and as customers shopped more at shopping malls. Bullock’s flourished until Nordstrom’s entered the Southern California market. At that time, Bullock’s began losing some of its fashion edge as markdown programs were reduced with the intent of increasing profitability but in reality allowed fashion to become stale in comparison to Nordstrom’s. Bullock’s remained dominant but should never have allowed Nordstrom’s to gain a foothold in Southern California. (Note: Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s (Federated Department Stores) started with Bullock’s as a trainee. Keep in mind, the Bullock’s motto was….” to build a business which shall know no end”.

Today, the former downtown Bullock’s store building is divided between a St Vincents Jewelry Mart, a parking lot, and small retail stores. The Bullock’s Wilshire store now houses the Southwestern Law School. The Bullock’s Wilshire store is kept in its original Art Deco splendor and serves as a reminder of department store retailing in the grander days.

I started my retail career with Bullock’s. Although I grew up in Modesto, California, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, I knew Bullock’s especially well. My mother was from Los Angeles. My grandmother used to knit infant clothing for Bullock’s downtown. My godmother, Ms. Paquita Machris, used to take me twice a year to Bullock’s Wilshire to pick out clothing. Her personal sales person, Ms. Dineen, met us at the MotorCourt and took us through the store followed by a lunch in the tea room where I enjoyed my first taste of Babas au Rhum. Years later,  I always made sure Ms. Dineen was well taken care of as she had the largest sales book in the entire Bullock’s chain. I joined Bullock’s when I taught Statistics at U.S.C. I then became a part of the Personnel department in the corporate offices. I remained with Bullock’s until 1978 when I was recruited to Mervyn’s, a new publicly held company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My collection of Bullock’s postards are shown below. If anyone has memories of Bullock’s I hope you will feel free to memorialize your memories in the Comments Section below. I know I have many friends and co-workers who are anxious to do so. You must receive my permission to copy or reprint any of these postcards.

Bullock’s Downtown

Bullock’s Downtown 1920′s

July 4, 1921

DownTown LA 1912

Bullock’s Downtown 1930′s (note outdoor dining – before smog)

Bullock’s Downtown – 1930′s

First Floor 1914 – Later became Cosmetics floor

 

Gown Room – Third Floor – Pre 1920

 

Children’s Departments – Fourth Floor – Pre-1920

Millinery Room

The Tea Room…..

Tea Room – 1920′s

The Lobby – Tea Room

The Foyer – Tea Room – 1920′s

The Foyer – Tea Room – 1910

Tea Room – The Grey Room – 1920′s

Tea Room – 1920′s

Tea Room – 1930′s

Tea Room Kitchen – 1930′s

California Poem Sent to Bullock’s Downtown Customers – 1924

Bullock’s Wilshire – Opened 1929

Bullock’s Wilshire

Bullock’s Wilshire – Fine Pottery and Glassware

Bullock’s Wilshire – Fine Jewelry Gorham Sterling & Precious Stones

Bullock’s Pasadena

Bullock’s Pasadena – Designed to be a hotel if it did not work as a retail store.

Fashion Postcards Sent to Bullock’s Pasadena Customers

Bullock’s Santa Ana

Bullock’s Santa Ana – Company developed mall- Sister Company I Magnin is co-anchor

Bullock’s Downtown Easter Placecard – Shirley Temple – 1928

This placecard was provided to me by someone whose Great Aunt worked at Bullock’s and kept this placecard. She had Shirley Temple, Ma Kittle, and Bob Hope as customers. I have not verified the signature. Bullock’s, Bullock’s Wilshire, and Bullock’s Palm Spring served many of the Hollywood Stars!