Posts Tagged ‘Merchantile Stores’


Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Holiday Card 1904. Front Entrance


Abraham & Straus – Arial View – 1906

Founded in 1865 by Abraham Abraham and Joseph Wechsler in Brooklyn, New York, the company initially opened as Wechsler & Abraham on Fulton Street near Tillary. At this time, Brooklyn was a thriving community of its own; the Brooklyn Bridge had not yet been built. In the early 1880’s, the company bought and renovated an ornate cast iron building on Fulton between Hoyt Street and Gallatin Place. With continual expansion, the store eventually occupied the entire block. The building was equally ornate inside as depicted in some of the postcards shown below. A five-story courtyard with a skylight allowed daylight to show off the merchandise.  Abraham & Straus became the retail showplace in New York. The last major renovation was between 1928 and 1930 when the architects Starrett & Van Vleck designed the new building facing Fulton Street in Art Deco style. This store still stands today but is now a Macy’s.

In 1893, the Straus family along with Simon Rothschild bought out the Wechsler interest in the company and the store was renamed Abraham & Straus. The Straus family also had controlling interest in R.H. Macy & Company in New York. The two retailers were not combined but did maintain a common buying office in Europe. During the 1910s, the Straus family separated their interest in the two stores, with Abraham & Straus going to one branch of the family, and Macy’s to the other. In April, 1912, Isidor and Ida Straus went down with the Titanic.

In 1929, Abraham & Straus, Bloomingdale’s, Filene’s and Lazarus (along with its subsidiary, Shillito’s) merged to form Federated Department Stores. At this time, Federated was located in Columbus, Ohio but later moved to Cincinnati. The merger gave each division the strength to weather economic storms and also created buying clout in the U.S. and Europe.

Family members ran Abraham & Straus until 1955. Walter Rothschild was President and Chairman until 1955, and was succeeded by Sidney Solomon, the first non-family member to lead the company.

In 1950, the company purchased the Loeser’s store in Garden City and converted it to Abraham & Straus. In 1952, the company built its first suburban store in Hempstead. That store was expanded over the years until it exceeded 400,000 square feet. The company continued expansion with stores in Manhasset, Smithtown, Babylon (later replaced), Monmouth (NJ), Paramus (NJ), White Plains (NY), Short Hills (NJ), King of Prussia (PA), Willow Grove (PA), and Manhattan.

Under the leadership of Walter Rothschild and Sidney Solomon, Abraham & Straus was the powerhouse of Federated Department Stores. The division contributed more earnings per share than any other division. For years it was known as the training ground for merchants for the retail industry. Many of the top retail CEO’s came from the A& S training program.

Unfortunately, Abraham & Straus also became the funding source for Federated Department Store’s divisions in the Sunbelt (Bullock’s, Burdines, Sanger-Harris, and Rich’s). Eventually the Brooklyn market declined as did Hempstead and Babylon. The new management team relied on a strategy of opening new stores to grow their way out of the problems created by the declining markets. New stores were built in White Plains and Short Hills, but neither was an immediate success. Then, A&S made the disastrous decision to open stores in the Philadelphia market (Willow Grove and King of Prussia). These stores worsened the situation. As a final fiasco, the division opened a new store near Herald Square in NYC, a store that never could be profitable. On top of all this, a new centralized distribution center was opened, intended to reduce expenses and to increase the selling space in each store. Through management bungling, this operation became a major problem as shortage increased dramatically chain wide. In addition, costs were far above projections and merchandise got stalled in the pipeline.

Outside Porte Cochere. 1909

The Court, Silver Department, 1904

What happened???

Atop all the management mistakes in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, the final blow came when Campeau, the real estate developer, bought Federated Department Stores and combined it with Allied Stores. This led to the combination of A&S with Jordan Marsh (Boston), operating out of the Brooklyn headquarters. In 1994, Federated Department Stores purchased bankrupt R.H. Macy & Co and in 1995, combined A&S with the Macy’s New York division, converting stores to the Macy’s brand or other divisions of Federated.

I first saw Abraham & Straus in the late 1960’s when it was a powerhouse. I was working at Bullock’s in Los Angeles and was asked to visit with A&S to gather information on some of their personnel policies and procedures. I was impressed. The customer traffic was unbelievable. The fashion displays were incredible as the volume justified the costs. I joined A&S in 1976 and it was then on a fast downhill slide. Management’s response was to take the business upscale. This new direction worked in Manhasset, Smithtown, Paramus and the smaller Garden City store but in the other stores the new direction was a disaster. In Brooklyn, for example, we added a Pappagallo shop and put $12 million into an upscale renovation of the Brooklyn store when in fact all that sold in front of the store were Jellies and incense on cardboard boxes. The employees lost confidence in management as customers objected to the new higher priced merchandise. Unions started organizing attempts because of separation of the associates from management. One day over 6,000 people demonstrated in support of the unions in front of the Brooklyn store. The store also became a magnet for criminals. Organized gangs came into the store to steal merchandise. One Christmas Eve a gang came into the jewelry department during business hours, broke all the cases and stole the majority of the merchandise.

A&S Rotunda .. 1904

Picture Gallery. 1907

The postcard collection primarily shows the store pre-1930 when it was grand. Like all the other cards in the Plummer Collection, I ask that you do not reproduce or copy any of these postcards without gaining my written permission.

Grocery Department. 1904

Grocery Department in 1907

I trust that you will feel comfortable to leave your comments about your history with A&S, either as a customer or as an employee. We need to preserve this important part of retail history.

Straus Family Summer Home. View 1 . 1907

Straus Family Summer Home . View 2. 1907

Anniversary Day Parade . Prospect Park. 1907 . Pub by A&S

Lawn Tennis Prospect Park . 1905 . pub A&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.


Friday, March 18th, 2011

Hale Bros. San Francisco – Pre-1906


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.


Monday, March 14th, 2011


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



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.


Friday, March 11th, 2011


Emporium – Market Street – San Francisco – 1905 (pre earthquake)


The Emporium in San Francisco was the first and later became the largest and for many years the most important department store in San Francisco. The store, because of its size and convenience to transportation, helped turn Market Street into a shopping Mecca. The store offered popular or value priced merchandise. It also had special events to draw customers such as band concerts every Saturday night under the glass dome.

The original store was started in 1872 as the Golden Rule Bazaar. At the time, it was the only large store on the West Coast and was designed to serve those following the gold rush. It grew to operate out of three different buildings. During those years the store was operated by the Davis brothers.

In 1893Adolph Feist leased a building on Market Street with plans to open a major department store through a partnership with one of the major retailers in the East. When the partnership strategy failed he rented out space in the building to various small entrepreneurs. In 1896, the doors opened under the name The Emporium. Soon after, Mr. Frederick W. Dohrmann became involved. He was a German immigrant who had come to the S.F. Bay Area in 1860 and had proven himself successful in flour milling and pottery merchandising. He understood the possibilities of the original department store plan and ended up leading the 1897 merger of the Golden Rule Bazaar and the Emporium into one entity in the space that Adolph Feist had leased. He then brought his son, A.B.C. Dohrmann, in as the president.  The younger Dohrmann built the systems and procedures to allow the different departments to work together. The store quickly became successful under his leadership. He remained President until his death in 1914.

The Emporium suffered major damage in the 1906 earthquake and fire. While the store was being rebuilt, a temporary store was opened on Van Ness Avenue. A new building was built on Market Street. The new building had 775,000 square feet of floor space. It had a glass arcade, a glass dome, solid mahogany fixtures, and a new grocery department. The design was intended to make this store as glamorous as anything found in the East.

In 1927, the Emporium merged with H. C. Capwell & Co. based in Oakland. The new holding company was named Emporium-Capwell. The two different divisions operated independently for years only merging their New York and overseas buying offices. The Emporium started to grow with stores on the San Francisco Peninsula, Santa Clara County, Marin County, and Sonoma County. Capwell’s, on the other hand, opened stores in Alameda County and Contra Costa County.

The Emporium-Capwell company was acquired by Broadway Hale Stores in 1969. This put together Broadway (Southern California), Weinstock’s (Sacramento), Emporium (San Francisco) and Capwell’s (Oakland) into one holding company under the name Carter Hawley Hale Stores (CHH). CHH then went on a major acquisition binge which resulted in significant debt. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1991. In 1992, the Zell/Chilmark fund bought CHH and renamed it Broadway Stores as the company emerged from bankruptcy protection. In 1996, Broadway Stores was sold to Federated Department Stores and they closed all the various divisions and either converted the stores to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, or sold the facilities.

The downtown San Francisco store has mostly been converted into a Nordstrom’s anchoring the San Francisco Center mall.

What happened???? The Emporium remained a dominant department store chain in the San Francisco Bay Area until the 1970’s. Then Ed Finkelstein and Phil Schlein led a rejuvenated Macy’s organization which took the market by surprise. The new Cellar department and the fashion forward Juniors and Young Mens departments captured the youth and early adult markets. Macy’s also put money into the look of their stores setting them apart from the Emporium which did not have capital available for the stores as the parent company had to service its debt. By the mid-80’s, Macy’s was clearly the dominant player. Because Emporium was a value priced department store chain, they also faced pressure from Mervyn’s which offered better values and more convenience. The explosion of good specialty retailers also took market share. During the construction of BART, the downtown San Francisco store suffered as Market Street was a mess and this drove shoppers to the Union Square area. In the end, it was the recklessness of the parent company that destroyed the Emporium and all the other divisions of CHH.

I knew the Emporium well both as a young customer and later as a competitor. When I was a young child, I came with my parents to shop in San Francisco. Modesto was just 80 miles away, but in those days it was a major trip. We had our car serviced before we made the drive and we stayed in a hotel for three days while we shopped for back to school, Christmas, and for Spring/Summer. Although we shopped in many stores (White House, City of Paris, Macy’s, and Hale’s), the Emporium was the targeted store. Not only did it have the merchandise we could afford, but it was also a grand place to take children. During the holidays the roof had a children’s playground/amusement park. There was a Ferris wheel ride that hung out over the front of the store looking straight down at Market Street. There was also a small Southern Pacific passenger train that kids could ride. (The last time I saw the train it was at model train store in the Sunset District.) In those days, the store had a pet department with live animals which was also a playground for the kids. We usually ate in the mezzanine cafeteria. In the mid-70’s I shopped the Emporium when I worked at Bullock’s in Los Angeles and later when I was at Mervyn’s. In those days you could see a lack of excitement in fashion apparel, a decline in customer service, and, most importantly, a decline in the maintenance of the facilities.

NOTE:  I treasure my memories of this Grand Dame of Retail and hope you will too. Please feel free to leave your memories in the comments section below.

The Emporium – San Francisco – 1904 – Pre Earthquake

Emporium – 1910 – Note Earthquake Reconstruction on Roof Nextdoor

The Emporium – San Francisco – 1910

The Emporium – San Francisco – Holiday Greetings – 1910

The Emporium – 1911

The Emporium – Temporary Store on Van Ness – 1908

Emporium – Entrance Arcade – 1905 – Pre Earthquake

Ekmporium – Entrance Arcade – 1911 – Post Earthquake

Emporium – San Francisco – The Grand Staircase – 1915

The Emporium – Rotunda, Cafe, & Bandstand – 1908 – Pre Earthquake

The Emporium – Bandstand – 1906 – Note Sender’s Comments

Emporium – Rotunda – After Earthquake Reconstruction

Emporium – Pre 1906 – Women’s Cloaks & Suits

The Emporium – Juvenile Section – Pre 1906

The Emporium – Oriental Section – Pre 1906

Emporium – 1912- Cafe – Note Fire Sprinkler System on Ceiling

Emporium – Cafe – 1915

Emporium – 1908 Calendar – Sent from Temporary Store

The Emporium – 1908 Calendar – Sent from Temporary Store

Emporium – Postcard Calendar – 1909 – Sent From Temporary Store

The Emporium – 1920′s – Gloves Trade Card

The Emporium = 1910

The Emporium – 1920′s – Trade Stamp

The Emporium – 1906 After Earthquake and Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – Smoldering Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – After the Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – Another View After the Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – After The Fire Looking Through Former Entrance

Emporium – 1907 – Postcard Envelop Containing Earthquake and Fire Postcards

San Francisco City Hall

Emporium – Panorama of the City of San Francisco After Earthquake and Fire.

Emporium – 1906 Earthquake and Fire Burning the Metropolitain Temple

Emporium – 1906 Fire Destroys Concordia Club

Emporium – 1906 – Ruins of St. Ignatius Cathedral and College

Emporium – 1906 – Earthquake and Fire Refugee Camp

Emporium – 1906 – Refugee Camp in Cemetary

The Emporium – 1906 – The Entrance After Fire and Earthquake

These postcards are from the Plummer & Associates Collection. Please do not copy or reproduce without written 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.


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1908 New Store After Fire

In 1875, David Lubin, a Polish émigré via New York opened Lubin’s One Price Store in downtown Sacramento. This first store was 16 by 24 feet. A year or two later, his half-brother, Harris Weinstock, and his sister,  Jeanette Levy, joined the business as it expanded from just a store to a major mail order house and the company name changed to Weinstock Lubin. Soon after, the store was expanded to 80,000 square feet with four stories. In 1875, the company was the largest mail order house on the Pacific Coast.  The company grew and soon opened buying offices in New York and San Francisco. In 1888, the company was incorporated and renamed Weinstock Lubin & Co. A store in San Francisco was opened in 1897. In January, 1903, the downtown Sacramento store was destroyed by fire. A fireman was killed. Not to be stopped, the company quickly proceeded to build a new store, a building which became the biggest in Sacramento. The company targeted the value driven customer. As time continued, the retail business took over and became the majority of the business.

The company developed a culture which allowed employees to have a stake in the business. The company started a profit sharing plan which shared profits by employee level. The company also hired teachers to provide younger employees with skills in writing and mathematics.

David Lubin was impatient and wanted to do more than just run the family department store and mail order house. He let Harris Weinstock become the CEO while he engaged in agriculture. He started orchards in the Sacramento area and brought European farming methods. His knowledge of agriculture assisted him when he helped found the California Fruit Growers’ Union. He then helped settle Eastern European Jewish refugees who worked on various farms in the area and, in 1891, he became the director of the International Society for the Colonization of Russian Jews. He then began to campaign for subsidies and protection for farmers, initially in California but eventually on an international scale. His son, Simon, helped him develop a proposal for an international chamber of agriculture; in 1896, David Lubin moved to Europe to implement the proposal. In May, 1908, with the sponsorship of Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III, the International Institute of Agriculture (the IIA) opened, in Rome. The Institute’s goals were to help farmers share knowledge, produce systematically, establish a cooperative system of rural credit, and have control over the marketing of their products. In 1906, David was permanently appointed as the U.S. delegate to IIA. (Note: The IIA was folded in 1945 and merged into the United Nations.

In 1949, Weinstock Lubin & Company was acquired by its arch rival, Hale Bros. In 1979, the new parent company Carter Hawley Hale Stores expanded Weinstock Lubin & Company (now just called Weinstock’s) into Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 1991, Weinstock’s was combined with the Emporium division which took over all operations including merchandising.

The downtown store in Sacramento is now an office building.

What happened???      Weinstock Lubin & Company was once a powerful retailer in Central California. It unfortunately became a part of Hale Bros which later merged with Broadway Stores and became Broadway Hale and later merged with Emporium Capwell to become Carter Hawley Hale Stores. Wall Street jokingly called the company EGO, Inc. The parent company immersed itself with debt as it went on a drive to acquire other retail chains in an effort to become the biggest retail chain in the U.S. The impact of this debt reduced the amount of capital available to maintain the stores. Macy’s became a better competitor in California and Nordstrom also entered the market along with a host of specialty retailers and big box retailers. The department store divisions of Carter Hawley Hale no longer were relevant to the customers. After Carter Hawley Hale Stores were sold to an investor group, Zell/Chilmark, the new management team made key marketing mistakes which finished off the parent company and resulted in the 1995 sale to Federated Department Stores. With the sale, all divisions, including Weinstock’s were either converted to Macy’s or sold.

I visited Weinstock Lubin & Company when I was young as I only lived 80 miles south in Modesto. Although Weinstock Lubin had an enjoyable lunch bar for kids, it was not as magnificent as the stores in San Francisco. Weinstock Lubin was a major participant in the holiday festivities and always had wonderful window displays.

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1906

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1924

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1927

I encourage you to leave your memories of this store and department store chain in the comments section below.


Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Besides the larger department stores in Southern California there were also smaller stores inside and outside  Los Angeles. These stores carved out specific niches. They are an important part of Southern California retail history.


Goodman’s was located at 7th & Hill Streets across from Bullock’s. It was founded by S. Goodman. It was also short-lived, operating from 1922 to 1923 and ending in a public dispute between the founder and the landlord. The building still stands and has been converted into loft apartments. You can still see the remains of the painted sign if you look from Broadway Street down 7th. The store featured four elevators and a food market in the basement.


One of Los Angeles’ oldest retail stores, Eastern-Columbia was founded in 1892 by Mr. Adolph Sieroty. There were two divisions: Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company. The Art Deco styled building was built in 1930 and designed by Claud Beelman.  The building still stands today as a landmark and has been converted into loft apartments. I was never brought to the store in Los Angeles and it closed before I started working in downtown Los Angeles. I had visited the Columbia Outfitters store in San Francisco before it closed.  

Eastern Columbia Stores and Headquarters Broadway Street LA



The Broadway Street store was opened in 1923. The facade was redone in 1933 in a Beaux Arts style. The first store was opened on Olivera Street in 1862. In 1921, Ralph R. Huesman purchased the store from the Desmond family and led the expansion of the retailer to several locations throughout the Southern California market. Other Desmond stores of architectural importance were built on Wilshire Blvd. and in Hollywood. The downtown Los Angeles building still stands. The first floor is for small retailers. The upper floors are still empty. Desmond’s, under new ownership, merged with Walker-Scott (San Diego) and K. Wolens (a Texas based specialty department store chain) in 1985.



The company was founded by William Mullen and Andrew Bluett in 1889. The first store was located at the Corner of First and Spring streets. In 1910 the store was relocated to the first two floors of the Story building at Broadway and Sixth Streets. Mullen and Bluett was a high-end clothing store with a focus on menswear.

Mullen & Bluett Los Angeles 1911




Mullen & Bluett 1920′s





Mullen & Bluett – Hollywood and Vine – Hollywood




Founded by Kentucky-born minister and entrepreneur B. F. Coulter in 1878, Coulter Dry Goods Co. was one of the pioneering businesses in downtown Los Angeles. Built on the corner of Temple and Main streets, the original 900-square-foot building contained just $1,000 worth of merchandise that originally was purchased in New York and shipped west.

With a business philosophy of providing exceptional quality items at a fair price, Coulter quickly distinguished his enterprise — which eventually changed names to Coulter’s Department Store — from competitors with his keen attention to customer service. Advertisements described Coulter’s as “the nicest store in Los Angeles.”Over the years, the store was moved several times, finding larger homes on Main, Spring, Broadway and Seventh streets before it relocated for the last time to the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles.

Eventually, the L.A. business economy and consumer tastes changed and Coulter’s was purchased by The Broadway Department Store chain. The company’s final — and longest-held — location at 5600 Wilshire Blvd. was razed in the 1980s. It was a prime example of modern Art Deco design. Today the location is home to an upscale apartment complex. I did visit the store before it closed. It was not elegant, but it was clean, well merchandised, and had superior customer service…even though I could not afford to buy much.

Coulter’s LA on Broadway Street 1919

Coulter’s Broadway Street Store Tea Room 1920

Coulter’s New Store. Wilshire Blvd. 1950′s



Blackstone’s Dry Goods was founded in 1895 by Nathaniel Blackstone. He was the brother-in-law of J. W. Robinson, the founder of J.W. Robinson & Company/The Boston Store, and Blackstone had worked for him. The first store was located on Broadway between Third and Fourth Streets. In 1917 he moved the store to the corner of Broadway and Eighth Streets.

Blackstone’s Tea Room


Haggerty’s Downtown Los Angeles

Haggerty’s Pasadena Store

Haggerty’s Beverly Hills – 1957


Harris and Frank -Broadway Street – Los Angeles – 1920

Harris and Frank – Mens Furnishings Department

Harris and Frank – Hosiery and Neckwear Department

Harris and Frank – Youth Clothing Department

Harris and Frank – Youths Hat Department


For more information please see I. Magnin under Department Stores of Northern California.


 George Feagans and his partner, Mr. Brock founded Brock & Feagans on Broadway Street in Los Angeles. The elegant jewelry store opened its doors in 1882. The partnership dissolved in 1903 and the store closed. George Feagans then opened a new and even more elegant store in the famous Alexandria Hotel at 502 South Spring Street. The store was the gathering place for the richest and most famous. The hotel stands vacant now. The original Brock & Feagans building also still stands on Broadway Street.

Original Brock & Feagans – Broadway Street Los Angeles

Brock & Feagans Interior – Broadway – Los Angeles

Feagans Jewelers -Alexandria Hotel – Los Angeles

Feagans Jewelry at Alexandria Hotel – Los Angeles

Feagans Jewelry – Alexandria Hotel – Los Angeles -Approx 1910


Orbach’s, a well-known retailer of closeouts and seconds operating in New York, opened a Los Angeles office to buy goods for the New York stores as well as operate stores in the greater Los Angeles market. The Los Angeles buying office opened in 1945 and the first store was opened in 1948 on the Miracle Mile part of Wilshire Boulevard on the Mezzanine plus three floors in the Prudential Insurance Building. In 1953, they opened a branch store at Fifth and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, That location did not do well as that area was starting to decline. The downtown store was closed in 1959. The Miracle Mile store was closed in 1965 and moved to the former Siebu store on Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax. The company opened other stores in Los Cerritos Center (Cerritos), Del Amo Center (Torrance), La Mirada, and Panorama City. The ownership of Orbach’s transferred from the family to the Brenninkmeyer Company (AMCENA). In 1986, when Brenninkmeyer acquired the Howland Steinbach department store business from Supermarkets General, the decision was made to close the entire Orbach’s business, including the offices and stores in California. The former Siebu store which had been converted to Orbach’s on Wilshire Boulevard now houses the Petersen Automotive Museum.

The problem for Orbach’s was that it lost relevance as off-price stores expanded into the market and the quality of apparel increased at discount retailers. It also had a strange policy in never sharing product margins at the store level. People in the stores never felt engaged with the business.

As a competitor, Orbach’s had a bigger negative impact on May Company and The Broadway than it did on Bullock’s. Its sales really only impacted basic goods.

First LA Store on Wilshire in Prudential Building Across from Coulter’s  New Store on Wilshire in former Siebu Store at Wilshire and Fairfax


Barker Brothers was founded by Obadiah J. Barker, Jr. The first store opened in the early 1880’s on Spring Street. Later a major store was built on Broadway Street and it operated until 1927. In 1924, a ten story store was opened at the corner of 7th Street and Figueroa. This store was the largest home furnishings store in the U.S. and was grand in style. The entrance was designed in a Moroccan style. A pipe organ on the Mezzanine floor provided music for the store. There was a huge auditorium for the customers to learn about furniture and decorating. In addition, the restaurant was operated by Mary Louise, a famous tea room operator in Los Angeles. The company was the showcase for major as well as new, upcoming furniture designers. The sales force was known as aggressive in marketing to all the new housing developments. Barker Brothers grew as the population moved to suburbia. The company opened numerous stores all through out Southern California. In 1984, the downtown store closed. In 1992, the entire chain closed. The downtown store now houses a mixture of offices and lofts.

Barker Brothers was first incorporated in California but in 1924 it incorporated in Delaware. It was later bought by Gold’s and that family continued to operate the business. They were later acquired by Gamble-Skogmo. In 1960, Gold’s/Barker Brothers was acquired by City Products, an Ohio based ice delivery company on a drive to diversify. In 1965, Household Finance Corporation bought City Products in its attempt to diversify. They later sold Barker Brothers to a Wall Street investment group in 1984. That is when the downtown Los Angeles store was closed. Unfortunately, the company had too much debt to service along with too much competition while lacking management strength. Now, Levitz, Gold Key, and other discount retailers were taking away the mid-market customers and the designers on Robertson Boulevard were capturing the up-scale customers. There was little room for Barker Bros.For a period, Barker Brothers/Gold’s owned and operated the W. & J. Sloane furniture chain. Due to stiff competition they closed the California stores and sold the stores in the East to City Stores.

I visited the downtown Los Angeles several times just to look at the facilities and the merchandise. At the time, I was still living with hand-me-down furnishings so I could not afford to shop there. I did learn home furnishings taste by looking at the designer products. I also shopped the store as a competitor. The smaller suburban stores were not really exciting as they lacked the variety and the designer fashions in the main store. The suburban stores were much more like any upper moderate home furnishing store. 




Barker Brothers – Broadway Street – 1910





Barker Bros – New Store on 7th Street.




Barker Bros 7th Street Los Angeles   Barker Bros – 7th Street – Mary Louise Tea Room in Store


Barker Bros-Los Angeles-Annual Christmas Decorations

Barker Bros Downtown Los Angeles – Annual Christmas Tree Decor

Barkers Owned W.J. Sloan. This LA store was first closed.


The H. Jevene Company was founded by Hans Jevene in1882. It was known as the largest and best grocer in the West. The company operated retail, mail order, and home delivery services. I do not know the first location but the second location opened in 1896 at Spring and 2nd Streets. In 1907, it built its new store at 6th and Broadway Streets. The new store had the finest of grocery products on all six floors. The company reportedly closed in the late 1920’s after the founder died.



This home furnishings store was founded in 1906 on Main street in Los Angeles in the area known as the furniture district. Next door was another well-known furniture store, Dearden’s Home Furnishings (1909). Others nearby included: Heywood Bros. & Wakefield Company (circa 1899) and Hulse Bradford & Company (1901).

Overell’s Home Furnishings Main Street Los Angeles approx 1910


Tokyo’s Siebu store opened a branch in 1962 in a new and modern design at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, across the street from a highly successful May Company store. The store executives were surprised to see the poor quality of Japanese merchandise sold in the U.S. and felt there was an opportunity to expand with an offering of upscale goods. The first day, the store was jammed with 40,000 customers. The restaurant was also a success. Unfortunately, the store was not a long-term success and closed in 1964. Orbach’s took over the store in 1965. I visited the store with friends when I was in college. It was not a warm environment and I did not see anything of interest.

I do not have a postcard of the store when it was Siebu. There is a postcard of when it was Orbach’s. I suggest you look in the Orbach’s collection to see the store.



Hartfield’s was a chain of specialty retail store located in downtown shopping areas primarily in the West. The company was headquartered in downtown Los Angeles. In the late 50′s the company started Zody’s, a discount department store in Southern California. Then, the company was renamed Hartfield-Zody’s and went public in 1961. By 1960, the Hartfield’s chain consisted of over 50 specialty apparel stores (mostly in downtown shopping areas in the West) and 5 Zody’s. As downtown shopping districts declined, Hartfield’s stores closed. Eventually the company only operated Zody’s stores. By the early 80′s Zody’s was closed and the stores sold.

On the personal side, my father-in-law did the audits for Hartfield’s in the 1930′s. He often told me about the commitment the family had towards building a successful business.

I have not been able to find a postcard depicting a Hartsfield’s store.


The Walker Scott Department Store was founded in downtown San Diego in 1935. The store’s original owner, Ralf M. Walker, who already owned and ran Walker’s Department Store in Los Angeles, passed away in New York six weeks before the San Diego store’s opening. A former stock boy at the Los Angeles store, George A Scott, whom Mr. Walker had sent to the New York University of Retailing (1930), opened the San Diego store with Mr. Walker’s widow, Eliza Fitzgerald Walker. Eliza Walker became president of the company while Scott held the title of vice president. Walker’s Downtown store opened on October 3, 1935, situated on 5th and Broadway. It eventually expanded to eight stories, and held San Diego County’s first escalators.

The company merged with Desmond’s (Los Angeles) in 1985 which formed Wolens-Desmonds which operated Desmonds (Los Angeles), Walker-Scott ( San Diego), and K.Wolens (Texas).

Walker’s Later Walker Scott – San Diego




Walker’s Long Beach





Paris Walker New Store Los Angeles 1920′s





Paris Walker – Downtown Los Angeles on Broadway – 1920′s


Buffum’s was a chain of Long Beach, California based department stores founded in 1904 and for years owned and operated by the Buffum family. It grew slowly over the years to a total of 16 stores throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. (Dorothy Chandler was a member of the Buffum family.)

Over the years, the stores gained a reputation as the “Grand Dame” of department stores in the area. The stores interiors were known for large chandeliers and other upscale touches. The chain marketed itself as “Buffum’s Specialty Store,” in attempt to differentiate itself from other local chains including The Broadway, Bullock’s, Robinson’s, and the May Company.. It’s most famous advertising line “I’ve been to Buffum’s” was used in their advertising.

Like other local department stores of the era, Buffum’s was challenged by old-fashioned business models, changing consumer, tastes and the arrival of Nordstrom. The chain was bought in the 1970s by the Australia-based Adelaide Steamship Company, which looked to sell the struggling chain in the 1980s. AdSteam never found a buyer and liquidated the chain in March 1991.

The original downtown Long Beach building was replaced in the 1980′s. Unfortunately, the new store did not make much of a difference as downtown Long Beach had seriously declined. The newer store has since been demolished but downtown Long Beach has made a significant comeback and is considered one of the desirable parts of Southern California





Buffum’s Santa Ana Store


The company was founded in 1925 at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 3rd Street. It was the first store in the West side of the L.A. basin. The store always appealed to the value-oriented customer. The building was damaged in the Northridge earthquake. It closed in the 1980’s. Much of the building currently houses a Toys R Us store. A new shopping center was located nearby which ended the reign of Henshey’s.


Marston was a department store based in San Diego founded by George Marston.  The store was founded in 1878, and moved several times before moving into its longtime flagship store on C Street, between Fifth and Sixth in downtown San Diego.  In 1960, Marston was acquired by Broadway-Hale. The flagship store was demolished. George Marston’s success was his ability to develop strong relationships with key vendors so he had the merchandise on an exclusive basis. For example, Marston’s was the key retailer for Gustov Stickley furniture. Mr. Marston was a politician and a philanthropist. His home is now a museum in San Diego with an incredible collection of Gustov Stickley furniture. The store Marston’s downtown store has since been demolished with the building of Horton Plaza.





Marston’s – San Diego Downtown Store – 1920′s


Federated Department Stores started a new division in the 1960’s to capture small markets. The company saw the opportunity to become the dominant player in small cities (under 100,000) by acquiring local department stores and folding them into this new chain with merchandising and operating strengths. A management team was installed at the new headquarters in California and Federated started acquiring chains such as Halliburton’s in Oklahoma City, Levy’s in Tucson (1960) and others. It quickly realized that this new division was not providing the returns of the growth divisions. Plus, the settlement with the Justice Department after the acquisition of Bullocks-Magnin curtailed Federated’s ability to acquire more department store chains. The division was closed, a smart move as the department store chains they were targeting were downtown stores. Even in small cities, the retail centers were moving outside of downtown. Individual stores were sold to Dillard’s in 1971. (Keep in mind, at this time J.C. Penney, Sears Roebuck, and Monkey Wards which all had stores in downtown markets, were developing strategies to close these downtown stores and locate them in suburban strip centers and malls.)


The Harris Company was a retail corporation, based in San Bernardino that operated stores named Harris’.  Brothers Philip, Arthur, and Herman Harris started the company with a small dry goods store in 1905, and the company eventually grew to nine large department stores, with stores in San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties.

The chain was acquired by Gottschalks in 1998. After the acquisition, some of the stores continued to operate under the name Harris Gottschalks. In January, 2009, Gottschalks filed for bankruptcy, and on March 31 announced they were liquidating all stores. All of the original Harris stores were finally closed in July, 2009.





Harris Company – San Bernardino – 1935





Harris Company – San Bernardino – 1944





Harris Company – Riverside – 1960′s


Rouses was founded by Gaylord Rouse in 1895, after first owning stores in Philadelphia, Santa Barbara, and Antioch. He opened his first store in Riverside which targeted a broad audience. Mr. Rouse died in 1923.  In 1925 the store was expanded and remodeled. The store continued in operation until 1964 when the company closed in bankruptcy. Competition from other major department stores became too great. By then Harris’, The Broadway, and May Company Southern California had moved into the market.


Rouses – Riverside, Ca – 1948

Rouses – Riverside, Ca – 1935 – Main Aisle

Rouses – Riverside, Ca – 1935 – Men’s Clothing/Furnishings


George W. Reynolds Department Store – Riverside, Ca – 1925

* * * * *


Yamato Store – Broadway Street – Los Angeles – 1911

Yamato – Los Angeles – Tea Garden – 1911


Innes Shoe – Downtown Los Angeles


California Furniture Company – Los Angeles – approx 1900


Wood Bros Spring Street Los Angeles approx 1900

Mosgroves Los Angeles Spring Street approx 1900


The company operated stores in Los Angeles on Wilshire Blvd, in Pasadena, Hollywood, and in Fresno, California. These stores offered better women’s apparel. The company closed in the late 1950′s.

Wilshire Boulevard – Los Angeles – 1952

Wilshire Blvd – Los Angeles – 1952

Fresno, Ca Store, 1937

Myer Siegel 1926

Myer Siegel 1926


Fosgate’s Fountain and Confectionery Broadway Street LA approx 1910

Fosgate’s Fountain 4th and Broadway Los Angeles approx 1910


Metropolitan Barber Shop Spring near Broadway Los Angeles approx 1910


Christopher’s on Broadway near 7th Los Angeles approx 1920′s


Redlick’s Department Store Bakersfield, Ca 1919


Brock’s Department Store Bakersfield, Ca. 1950′s


Donovan & Seamans Jewelers Broadway Street Los Angles approx 1920


This wonderful jeweler was later sold to Dayton Hudson Jewelers.

Jessop & Sons Jewelers – San Diego


Ernsting Jewelers Downtown San Diego


The Elite Caterers and Confectioners – Broadway – Los Angeles – 1926


Z.L.PARMELEE COMPANY 2nd & Broadway Los Angeles approx 1900


The Wardrobe Company Santa Barbara approx 1910





Monday, January 31st, 2011

Downtown LA – May Company (after addition)

MAY COMPANY – CALIFORNIA – The Largest Department Store in the West

In 1923, the May Company based in St. Louis, Missouri, bought Hamburger’s in Los Angeles and re-named it May Company California. The May Company itself had started in 1877 in Leadville, Colorado, specifically to serve the silver miners. The May Company Department Stores expanded by moving to Denver and later purchasing Famous Brothers in St. Louis. It then moved to St Louis and merged with William Barr Dry Goods in 1911 to create Famous Barr. With the 1923 acquisition of the large Hamburger store in Los Angeles, it entered the California market.

For the first 15 years, the May Company California division focused on the downtown Los Angeles store. The first branch store was opened in 1939, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax. Even though the Great Depression did not hit California hard, the May Company remained cautious. They did know that they needed a store in Western Los Angeles as that was where the population growth was happening. In 1947, after WWII, they opened a store in the Crenshaw shopping area where many of the aircraft plant workers lived. In 1952, they opened a large store in Lakewood, near the Douglas plant and airfield. Afterwards, the company began opening a new suburban store every year or two until their stores captured significant market share in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and San Bernardino counties.

Like Broadway Stores, May Company was a mid-tier department store chain catering to the broad value oriented customer. The company developed strong merchants and, although highly promotional, they were great at following the fashion trends. I remember in the 60’s and 70’s when the juniors revolution was taking place, the May Company – California stores had a junior area that captured the times as well as the best junior specialty retailers. May Company was hot! In those days May Company California was a major profit producer for May Department Stores Company.

In later years, the May Company California expanded outside of California as the parent company bought Goldwater’s (Arizona) and incorporated the Goldwater’s Las Vegas store into a May Company California store.

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s May Company California stores started to show wear as the stores were not well-maintained under the expense control programs being implemented. The company still maintained strong merchandising programs and the May Department Stores Company became known for making money through effective merchandising. However, the California division was hurt by executive turnover and corporate programs that influenced and limited local merchandising.

In 1993, after the May Department Stores Company acquired Associated Dry Goods Company, the Associated’s W.J. Robinson & Company division was merged with the May Company California stores to form Robinsons-May. Robinson’s was an upper-tier department store operation and the merger of these two businesses first created some difficulties. When Bob Mettler became responsible for merchandising the problems seem to end as he differentiated the merchandising for the stores based upon local markets. He also brought a new level of enthusiasm to merchandising and buffered the merchandising team from the corporate merchandising pressures.

In 1984, the original store at 8th and Broadway was closed. The headquarters had moved out of that building years before. This area of downtown Los Angeles had deteriorated significantly.

In 2006, after the May Department Stores Company was acquired by Federated Department Stores, the Robinsons-May division was closed and the stores were converted to Macy’s or sold.

What happened?????   Although May Company California was a strong and aggressive merchandising organization, they, like others, had difficulties facing increased competition. Nordstrom, Mervyn’s, Target, a reinvigorated J.C. Penney, Costco, and others were taking market share and operated with lower costs. The May Company reduced expenses in a manner that resulted in a less than pleasant shopping environment. Corporate turnover and control also caused problems and eventually ended local merchandising programs. In the end, the collapse of the parent company ended May Company California.

I have posted postcards of the downtown Los Angeles store, the Wilshire store and the Crenshaw store. Postcards of the downtown LA store are listed under Hamburger’s, the company May Company purchased in 1923. Postcards of the newer May Company California stores are, in my mind, not important for this blog. The newer stores were just big boxes with no architectural importance.

May Company Downtown LA 1930′s

May Company California – Store at Fairfax and Wilshire Blvd -1940

May Company Store at Fairfax and Wilshire Blvd. Miracle Mile 1960′s

May Company California – Crenshaw Store 1940′s

Northern California Department Stores – City of Paris – San Francisco

Friday, January 28th, 2011



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.