For years, the Arnold Constable & Company was known as the “oldest department store” in America. It served the ‘carriage trade’ of New York. Famous customers included the Astor’s, Vanderbilt’s, Roosevelt’s, and Mary Todd Lincoln. The company was known for bring the best French fashion to NYC.
The company was started in 1825 by Mr. Aaron Arnold, an immigrant from the Isle of Wright. Before he opened his store he had been working with James Hearn, founder of Hearn’s. Mr. Arnold’s first store was located at the corner of Canal and Mercer Streets, then the center for retail. In 1837, a vendor, James Constable, married Aaron’s daughter and then became a partner in the firm. That is when the name was changed to Arnold Constable.
In 1868 Arnold Constable opened a new store at Broadway and Nineteenth Streets in NYC. This put the store in the middle the new “Ladies’ Mile” shopping district. It was known as “the Palace of Trade”.
In 1914 the company incorporated with reported capital of $2.5m. That same year the company leased the former home of Frederick W. Vanderbilt and started plans for building a new store on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street. At this time it was clear that the shopping district was moving “uptown”.
In 1925, Arnold Constable merged with Stewart & Company which led to the expansion into the suburbs. The first suburban store opened in 1937 in New Rochelle, NY. Later, stores opened in Hempstead, Manhasset, and New Jersey.
In the 1960’s, the carriage trade retailer of New York started to face economic troubles. As sales declined, expenses were rising significantly. The company started closing the unprofitable suburban stores. In 1975, the store on Fifth Avenue closed. After 150 years, the Arnold Constable name disappeared. The company did continue to manage its no-name stores, a small specialty retailer offering men’s and women’s separates. This was later sold in the 1990’s to YM, Inc, a Canadian retail chain.
What happened???? Arnold Constable did not adjust to the newer times and merchandising systems. It continued to cater to a dying “carriage trade” customer and did not attract the younger customers.
I visited Arnold Constable in 1973 on a business trip to NYC. I was interested in comparing it to Bullock’s Wilshire and I. Magnin. To me it was clear that Arnold Constable did not know it was hostile to the younger customer. The store also looked dowdy and was not well merchandised. I was not surprised when the company closed a year later.
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