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.
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.