DEPARTMENT STORES OF NEW YORK – A. T. STEWART
Alexander Turney Stewart, an Irish immigrant, opened his dry goods store in 1823. The first store was located at 283 Broadway. The business became so successful he opened a second, much larger store on Broadway between Chambers and Reade Streets. This new store was, in fact, the largest in New York City. It was known as the Marble Palace as the building was clad in Tuckahoe marble. Lord & Taylor which operated out of a small store in Greenwich Village was its only competitor. The store sold imported European merchandise. Fashion shows were held on the second floor in the Ladies Parlor renowned for its large mirrors. The store became well known for its unique design and for the merchandise carried. This store is today known as the first department store in the U.S.
In 1860, Mr. Stewart built a new store further uptown on Broadway between 9th and 10th Streets which opened in 1862. This store was still larger and much closer to where the other stores had moved on the Ladies Mile (Macy’s, B. Altman, Lord & Taylor). Cast iron construction allowed the store to be more open and provided for large windows on the street level to showcase merchandise. The building was called the Iron Palace.
Besides being known as the creator of the first department store in the U.S., Mr. Stewart also became known for creating his own mills and sewing factories to produce product for his store. He gained more fame for laying out the plan for Garden City on Long Island.
Alexander Stewart died in 1876. His company continued in business until 1882 when it became Hilton, Hughes & Co run by associates of Mr. Stewart. Unfortunately, the new company failed and closed in August, 1896. The next month the store was acquired by Wannamaker’s from Philadelphia.
Wanamaker’s first building at 280 Broadway later became the headquarters for the New York Sun, the publisher of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”. The building is now owned by the City of New York. The Iron Palace burned down in a massive fire in the 1950’s when it operated as a John Wannamaker store.
The first department store in the world is the Au Bon Marche in Paris, France. Although A. T. Stewart’s first store opened before Au Bon Marche, his first store was small and was not considered a department store in terms of organization.
Although there are many block prints of the A. T. Stewart store, there are few postcards. The store existed before postcards became legal with the U.S. Postal Service.