Posts Tagged ‘capwell’s’

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 – GOTTSCHALK’S – FRESNO

Monday, March 14th, 2011
 
 
 
 

 

Gottschalk’s – Fresno – 1914 – New Downtown Fresno Store

 

GOTTSCHALK’S

Gottschalk’s was founded in 1904 by Emil Gottschalk, a German Jewish immigrant. The store opened in downtown Fresno, California, a city in the great San Joaquin valley rich in agriculture. The store focused on moderate priced dry goods. This strategy was so successful that the company opened a new larger store (100,000 square feet) in downtown Fresno in 1914. About 1960, Irving Levy, the grand nephew of the founder, took control of the company as CEO. He remained Chief Executive Officer until his death in 1980. During his tenure, he opened the first branch store in Merced, California which served an agricultural based population plus those at Castle Air Force Base. He continued expansion in California growing the chain to six. In addition, he launched Bobbie West, a juniors chain, and Village East, a plus-sized women’s chain.

Gottschalk’s found its niche in small markets in the West. In these smaller towns the retailer became the dominant store and was able to operate with lower real estate costs and often lower labor costs than retailers in major markets. The company expanded through acquisition. In 1987, it acquired Malcolm Brock, the privately held chain operating in Bakersfield. A year later, it acquired the Harris Department Stores chain based in San Bernardino. In 2000, the company acquired Seattle based, Lamont’s which operated stores in the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska.

Gottschalk’s became a public company in1986 and was listed on the NYSE.

The downtown Fresno store was closed in 1998.The downtown area had been upgraded with an outdoor mall area, but that was not enough to save the store as customer preferred shopping in suburbs.

Gottschalk’s filed for bankruptcy protection in January, 2009. In March 2009 the company announced that it would be liquidating; the last stores were closed on July 12, 2009.

What happened????…. The small market strategy worked for Gottschalk’s. In many of the markets it was the dominant store allowing the company to flourish. The acquisition of Lamont’s quickly became a problem. Some of the Lamont’s stores were in malls which were not a good competitive format for Gottschalk’s. Those stores were the first to be closed. Competition also got stiffer as Mervyn’s, Kohl’s, Target, Wal-Mart, and a rejuvenated J.C. Penney entered Gottschalk’s markets. The biggest blow came from the Great Recession. It hit California hard. The final blow came when the company could not secure financing to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

When I was a child I did visit the downtown store. I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Fresno. To me it was just a big store, nothing remarkable. When I visited the store later, it was not well-maintained. It was not long afterwards that the store was closed. The suburban stores were the best store in each of their markets. The merchandise mix was moderate, but they were the only store that offered major national brands. That was the clear edge they had over Mervyn’s, Target, and Wal-Mart.

Since the demise of Gottschalk’s is recent, I am sure there are many around who can add their memories of the company to the comments section below.

Gottschalk’s – Fresno – Postmark 1918 – note recolored

Gottschalk’s – Fresno – New Years Greetings!

These postcards are from the Plummer & Associates collection. Please do not copy or reproduce any of these postcards without written permission from John Plummer.

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