Posts Tagged ‘California retail history’

Northern California Department Stores – I Magnin & Co – San Francisco

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

I. Magnin on Union Square – San Francisco

For years, I. Magnin & Company was the leading high fashion/luxury goods chain in the West serving the ‘carriage trade’ customer with exclusive fashion from leading designers. It earned these exclusive relationships by providing a facility and customer service that showcased the brands. She became known for bringing the latest fashions from Paris.

Magnin & Company was started in 1876 by Mary Ann Magnin and she named the company after her husband, Isaac Magnin. She came from the Netherlands and he from England. Her first store carried lotions and high-end clothing for infants. She then expanded into bridal. Her first store was located on Market Street. She later moved to 918-922 Market Street, right across from the Emporium. The new store was 10,000 square feet, two stories, and renowned for its elegant ladies room. In 1906 the company had a second location under construction on Grant Street but it never opened. The earthquake and fire destroyed both the Market Street store and the incipient one. Mrs. Magnin built a new store at the corner of Stockton and Geary Street. In 1948 that building was replaced with a new flagship store, dubbed the ‘White Marble Palace’ by Christian Dior.

Three of the Magnin’s sons (John, Grover, and Sam) joined the company. The fourth son, Joseph Magnin started his own company, J. Magnin.

In 1910, I. Magnin’s began opening boutique shops in luxury hotels in California. Eventually, there were six of these shops. In 1939, the company expanded into Southern California with its first store on Wilshire Boulevard, a block from the Bullock’s Wilshire store.

In 1944, Bullock’s Department Stores bought I. Magnin & Company and formed Bullock’s-I.Magnin. This partnership funded the new I.Magnin flagship store opened in 1948. It also led to the expansion of I. Magnin & Company to Santa Ana, Sherman Oaks, and Del Amo.

In 1964, Bullock’s-I.Magnin was acquired by Federated Department Stores in a hostile takeover. As a result, Bullock’s and I.Magnin’s became separate divisions of Federated. Federated did fund the expansion in the 1970’s of I. Magnin & Co into Chicago and Washington, D.C.

In the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, Federated Department Stores realized that I. Magnin’s customer base was shrinking as the ‘carriage trade’ passed. The company realized that the younger customers were not shopping at I. Magnin’s. Management changes were made to attract the younger customer. These strategies did not provide the expected results and in fact, often resulted in offending the older customers. Sales continued to decline. High end boutiques were doing a better job of attracting the young and wealthy.

In 1988, Federated was taken over by real estate developer Campeau Corporation. In a settlement with the R. H. Macy Company which was also a bidder, Campeau sold the Bullock’s and I. Magnin’s divisions to Macy’s. The following year, Macy’s combined the Bullock’s Wilshire and I.Magnin’s divisions and started shuttering stores. The 1992 Rodney King riot in Los Angeles made it easy for the original Bullock’s Wilshire store to be closed.

The secret sauce for I. Magnin’s was creating an environment to showcase high fashion and luxury goods. Everyone who visited the San Francisco flagship I. Magnin store will tell you stories about the store, especially the marble ladies room with the gold plated fixtures. The store and all its facilities were elegant. Designers preferred to have their goods showcased at I. Magnin’s versus other retailers. And this set the company apart from all other department stores. In addition, the sales associates developed strong relationships with all the carriage trade customers and would call them to let them know about new goods and would hold those goods until the customer visited the store.

For a while, Rose Marie Bravo ran I. Magnin’s and she set plans in place to rebuild the chain’s image. After she left, the business again lost merchandising direction. In 1994, Federated Department Stores reached an agreement with the creditors of the R. H. Macy Company to buy it out of bankruptcy. Before the deal closed, they shuttered the remainder of the I. Magnin’s stores. Many of the stores were converted to Macy’s. The upper floors of the San Francisco flagship were converted to Macy’s; the lower floors became a duty free store.

What happened????…. For years the I Magnin & Company served the high end customers well. This was while the family was heavily involved in the business. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the company continued to cater to the carriage trade but missed the growth of the baby boom generation. The company’s executives did not change their strategies, they just focused on the same for far too long until the high end and luxury specialty retailers had captured the younger wealthy customer. By the time Federated Department Stores recognized this, it was too late. I. Magnin & Company was seen by the customers as a store for the past generation. The company had lost its cache. Rose Marie Bravo did implement good strategies, but it was simply too late and the return on a turnaround simply was not a good investment. Many retailers fall into this trap. Federated put in an executive to reduce costs. This executive did not understand the importance of the sales people in the store. He implemented a plan to reduce full-time employees and add more part-time employees. This nearly resulted in the employee’s joining the union and definitely led to the departure of some of the best sales people and a serious decline in morale and customer service.

I knew I. Magnin & Company too well. Harriet, the aunt of a good friend of mine, worked in the candy department on the first floor at the Kearny Street entrance. She would tell us how it was her responsibility to let the management know when someone famous or a well-known customer would come in the door so they could be met and given individual service. Harriet showed us all around the store, including the ladies’ restroom.

Later, when I worked at Bullock’s, I shopped I. Magnin’s at the various stores. I had visited all except the store in Washington D.C. The stores were well maintained, elegant, and the customer service was exemplary. It was evident that the store in Chicago did not get the exclusive designer goods that were in the big stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many of smaller stores (Del Amo, Sherman Oaks) also lacked the breadth of merchandise. At that time it was clear that the younger customer was not going to feel comfortable in that environment.

I had a great relationship with one of I. Magnin’s most delightful carriage trade customers. Mazie Donovan had inherited vast sums. Because she was virtually blind and lived near me, I used to do bookkeeping for her every week. She maintained strong relationships with the San Francisco flagship store even though she lived in Hermosa Beach. Ms. Jolly from the fur department would always call Mazie when she had some fur item she wanted Mazie to consider. I can remember the Russian Sable Bolero that Ms. Jolly sent to Mazie on approval which Mazie purchased. Within a week after a call from Ms. Jolly, Mazie would arrange a trip to San Francisco to see what was being held for her. I knew each trip would end with a new jacket or coat.

I have shared my memories. I trust you will too. Please leave them in the comments section below.

I. Magnin & Co. Union Square -San Francisco – mid 1950′s

I. Magnin & Co Collector’s Stamp 1930′s

I. Magnin & Co -Union Square San Francisco 1950′s – Macy’s Expanding

I. Magnin & Co Calendar 1912

The following postcards depict the store in Los Angeles at Wilshire Boulevard and New Hampshire, near Bullock’s Wilshire. This store had access to the affluent Hancock Park neighborhood.

Please keep in mind that these postcards are part of the Plummer & Associates collection. Please do not copy or reproduce any of these postcards without permission.

DEPARTMENT STORES OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – HALE BROS – SACRAMENTO

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Hale Bros. San Francisco – Pre-1906

HALE BROTHERS – SACRAMENTO

In 1880 the Criterion Store was opened by Prentice Cobb Hale and his two brothers. This store was located in downtown Sacramento. The next year the store and company was renamed Hale Brothers & Company. In 1896, the company incorporated under the name of Hale Bros. In 1887, the company established a buying office in New York headed by Marshall Hale. This store was known for offering value priced merchandise.

Hale Bros opened large stores in San Francisco and San Jose and several smaller stores in California’s smaller markets. In those days some of the stores included groceries in their merchandise mix. Each store was managed as a separate entity as systems were not sophisticated enough to have chain wide merchandising. The Sacramento store was last located at 9th and K Streets. The San Jose store was at the corner of 1st and San Carlos. The San Francisco store was first located at 989 Market Street. After the earthquake, the company built a new store at 901 Market Street in a neoclassical building designed by the Reid Brothers. It lost that store in a 1944 lease dispute with the owners of the land upon which the store was built. As a result, J.C.Penney moved into this prime location and Hale Bros was forced to take over the former J.C.Penney location adjacent to the enormous Emporium store.  The foolish negotiations by Hale Bros resulted in the company opening in an older building while paying a much higher rent.

In 1949, Hale Bros. acquired their Sacramento rival, Weinstocks Lubin & Co. In 1949, Hale Bros. negotiated an all-stock merger with Los Angeles based Broadway Department Stores, then the largest and most aggressively growing chain in Southern California. The result was Broadway-Hale Stores. Prentice Hale became the Chairman and Ed Carter (Broadway) became President.

All stores were closed by 1968. Hale Brothers was facing increased competition from the Emporium and aggressive specialty retailers. Consumers were moving to the malls while Hale Bros stores were in downtown markets. Since the Emporium was merged into Broadway – Hale in 1969, I have to believe they knew that Hale Bros stores would not be relevant in that combined company. At the time, the only people crying over the loss were the employees of Hale Bros. The store was not missed.

The Sacramento store has now been restored to its original look; the unsightly aluminum sheathing has been removed. The San Jose store now houses a building and loan office. The San Francisco store was empty for years after J.C. Penney left San Francisco. It now houses big box retail venues.

What happened????…. In the case of Hale Bros you cannot blame Carter Hawley Hale for its demise. Instead, blame goes directly to the company’s management. The loss of the San Francisco store lease killed that store. They ended up with a store that was old and in decline and they paid more in rent. They just could not compete with the more customer friendly Emporium next door. Customers were also looking for more fashion but Hale Brothers did not offer it. The biggest problem was that the customers were moving to mall shopping environments and Hale Bros stores were only located in downtown venues.

I was taken to the Hale Bros stores in both Sacramento and San Francisco. In Sacramento, the Weinstock’s store was far more exciting. In San Francisco, going to Hale Bros was torture in comparison to the Emporium, the White House, or the City of Paris. Then, when Macy’s San Francisco woke-up, it was all over for Hale Bros.

I hope that all of you who know Hale Bros better than I do will be able to tell your stories in the comments section below. I would especially like to hear more about how the real estate mogul, Louis Lurie, out foxed Prentice Hale.

Hale Bros. – San Francisco – Destruction by 1906 Earthquake and Fire

Hale Bros. – San Francisco – Rebuild after Earthquake and Fire

Hale Bros. – San Francisco – New Store on Market – 1927

Hale Bros. – San Jose – Scene from 1932

Hale Bros. – San Francisco – First Floor – no date

Hale Bros. – San Francisco – Pompeian Court/Restaurant – 1914

These Hale Bros. postcards are part of the Plummer & Associates collection. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission from John Plummer.

Northern California Department Stores – White House – San Francisco

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The White House – Kearny Street Looking towards Market – 1905

The White House in San Francisco first opened as Davidson & Lane.  It opened in 1854 on Sacramento Street by J.W. Davidson and Richard Lane. Raphael Weill, an 18 year old émigré from France, joined the company. In 1958, when Richard Lane left to make his fortune in the Gold Rush, Raphael Weill became a Partner in the business. By 1861, Raphael Weill had bought out his partner and the store moved to Kearny and Post Streets. In 1870 it was renamed Raphael Weill & Company but the store was known as the “White House” after Grand Maison de Blanc in Paris. In 1906, the great earthquake and fire destroyed the building. Like many other retailers, it relocated temporarily after the fire and until the new store could be built. The new store was built at Sutter and Grant. It was built in a Beaux Arts design by Albert Pissis. The company maintained a buying office in Paris and all key members of management were from France and brought the French style in merchandise to San Francisco. For years, the company thrived and was noted for its elegant tea room. Mr. Weill died in 1920. The company continued to operate until 1965 when it closed in bankruptcy.

The building still stands and is now a flagship store for Banana Republic.

What happened????….The store was located in the better part of San Francisco. Unfortunately, that was not enough. The company seemed to lose its way in the marketplace and could not compete in San Francisco with the rejuvenation of Macy’s. The company could not attract the best merchants while other stores were developing exclusive relationships with vendors. In the end, the White House was just another promotional department store with an older customer base and with high labor and rent costs. Customers that used to travel to San Francisco to shop were now shopping in the suburban malls. The rest of their customers had passed. The White House became irrelevant. Not many were sad to see the store close.

The White House was on our family list of stores to shop when we came to San Francisco. I bought my first suit there which I needed for debate and speech tournaments. The only distinguishing point about this suit was that it was on sale. It never fit well.

The White House – Kearny Street- 1906 before earthquake and fire

The New White House – Approx 1909

The White House – Calendar – 1931

The White House Tea Room

The White House Tea Room

The White House Tea Room

I trust any customers and/or employee will feel free to leave their comments below. This was too beautiful of a store to let the memories pass without being put in print.

As with my other postcard blogs, please do not copy these postcards without my written permission.

DEPARTMENT STORES OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – HOLMAN’S – PACIFIC GROVE

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Holman’s was founded in 1891 by Rensselaer Luther Holman who reportedly came to Pacific Grove to retire. His first store was named the Popular Dry Goods Store. The name was later changed to Holman’s Department Store.

In 1927, the new store was built. The store had three floors and a fourth was added in 1937. The store had 46 departments. On the roof was a solarium and in good weather, food was served on the terrace. A large plate glass window on the roof allowed a great view of Monterey Bay while protecting patrons from the wind. The dining room was on the fourth floor.

The store sold popular priced fashion and home goods. In buildings behind the main building the store also sold building supplies, seeds, and feed supplies.

Holman’s is known for being the store at which John Steinbeck shopped. Some of the drafts of his novels were written on notepads purchased at Holman’s. In addition, one of the company’s biggest publicity stunts was mentioned in his book Cannery Row. This is when a roller skater skated on top of the store’s flagpole for 51 hours to break a record. This event was also recorded for the newsreels that played in the movie theaters in the 1940’s. (You can view it on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjXhJ3yz0yY)

Pacific Grove was a vacation spot for the wealthy from the San Francisco Bay Area. Until the late 1950’s, the Southern Pacific operated trains from San Francisco to Monterey and Pacific Grove.

For a while, the company operated a branch store in Monterey.

The Pacific Grove building now houses an antiques mall.

What happened???? …. In the 1990’s and into 2000, it became difficult to operate an independent department store. A mall opened in Monterey with all the major department stores and a host of specialty retailers. It became impossible to compete with the department and specialty stores which had better assortments with the brands the consumer desired. In 1985, Holman’s was sold to Watsonville, California based Ford’s Department Store. Ford’s was the oldest merchantile company in California as it was started in 1852. Ford’s was expanding at the time and had also acquired Riley’s based in San Louis Obispo. Unfortunately, Ford’s Watsonville store was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake. The store was rebuilt and opened in 1992. Unfortunately, This led to Ford’s filing for bankruptcy in 1993 and its closing of all eight stores, including the Holman’s store in Pacific Grove.

I visited the store a couple of times in the 1960’s when I went to the sports car races at Laguna Seca. I found the store to be clean and staffed with friendly and helpful sales people. The store had a local feel and a family atmosphere.

A good friend, Laurie Heth,  worked in the publicity department at Holman’s. She described the store as an exciting and fun place to work. She was sad to see it close.

The Holman family currently operates a guest ranch in the area. I hope that the family, customers, and former employees will feel free to add to this post so that the memories of this fine store will be kept alive. This is too important of a store to fade away.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT STORES – H. C. CAPWELL – OAKLAND

Monday, February 21st, 2011

H.C.Capwell & Co – Opening 1912 – Oakland, California

Mr. H. C. Capwell, an immigrant from Michigan, opened a retail store in Downtown Oakland. For two years prior he worked in San Francisco for merchandising companies from the East Coast. His store opened in 1889 under the banner of “The Lace House”. Two years later he changed the name to H.C. Capwell.

As the company proved successful and Oakland grew, he opened a new big store at 20th and Broadway in downtown Oakland. This new store was of Beaux Arts design, built of brick, clad in terra cotta and six floors in height. With this store, Mr. Capwell set the tone for Oakland. On opening day, August 5, 1929, 10,000 customers waited for the doors to open.

Capwell’s, as the store was known to the consumer, was a mid-priced department store. In the 1930’s, the company also operated a grocery store in downtown called Capwell’s Central Market.

In 1924, Capwell’s merged with Emporium (San Francisco) to form Emporium-Capwell. The two remained separate entities under the same holding company. Capwell’s limited its expansion to the area near Oakland (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties)

The downtown Oakland store still stands. It remained a Capwell’s until 1989 when the name was changed to Emporium. Then, in 1996, when its parent company was sold to Federated Department Stores, the store was closed. It reopened months later as a Sears store and continues to operate as such. The building was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Pieta earthquake. It was closed for six months until repairs were completed.

What happened???     Capwell’s, by merging with the larger Emporium, became the stepchild in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its major market was downtown Oakland which declined rapidly after World War II.. When Emporium Capwell was acquired by Broadway Hale, the Emporium got all the capital to expand throughout the market while Capwell’s struggled with its Oakland and Alameda base. Worse yet, the new parent organization, Carter Hawley Hale Stores, went on an ego driven path to acquire other retailers, leaving the company burdened with debt and unable to refurbish the stores to keep up with retailing trends. This eventually led to the temporary collapse of the parent company and an ill fated attempt to rebuild the company in a buyout by the Zell/Chilmark fund. In 1996, the parent company was sold to Federated Department Stores. With the sale many stores were converted to Macy’s and Bloomingdales or were sold to other retailers or for other uses.

As a child, I never visited Capwell’s but we always passed it on our shopping trips to San Francisco. Later, when I worked at Mervyn’s I shopped it as a competitor. I found that it was then just an Emporium under the Capwell’s banner. The downtown store’s façade was beautiful, but inside, the store was not clean and you could see the facility was expensed to death. It was a sad sight. The suburban stores were better, but still poorly maintained.

H. C. Capwell & Co. 1921

H.C. Capwell & Co.. Terrace Tea Garden – 1914

H. C. Capwell & Co. = Venetian Roof Garden – 1914

H. C. Capwell & Co. Roof Garden Showing Berkeley Hills – 1912

H. C. Capwell & Co. – Venetian Garden on Roof. 1918

H. C. Capwell & Co. – Childrens Play Room on Roof – 1912

I encourage all who have been a customer or part of the H.C. Capwell & Co. team to please leave your comments. It would be great to capture all the memories of this once great retailer.  John

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.