Posts Tagged ‘Retail History’

OHIO STORES F & R LAZARUS

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Lazarus 3 LocationsLazarus 1907 outsideLazarus 1910 OutsideLazarus outside 1960's 1Lazarus outside 1960's 2Lazarus Columbus CampusLazarus Night approx 1910Lazarus first floor book shop Lazarus first floor escalator Lazarus first floor Meens Shoes lazarus First Floor Mens Hats Lazarus first floor Niagra Soda Fountain Lazarus First Floor South Aisle Lazsrus fist floor men's furnishingsLazarus Balcony BirdCageLazarus balcony haircuttingLazarus balcony Ladies Rest RoomLazarus balcony Ladies Rest RoomLazarus Balcony Men's Smoking RoomLazarus Third Floor Baby DepartmentLazarus second floor mens and boysLazarus 3rd floor ladies costume roomLazarus 3rd floor muslin underwear and laides sweatersLazarus 3rd floor Rest RoomLazarus Third Floor Baby DepartmentLazarus Kinderland 2Lazarus Kiinderland 4lazarus kinderland 3Lazarus KinderlandLazarus MillinaryLazarus Third Floor Baby DepartmentLazarus 5th Floor Pavillion RestaurantLazarus BandLazarus Display 1Lazarus Display 2.Lazarus Display 3Lazarus Display 6Lazarus Display 7Lazarus Display 8Lazarus Display 9Lazarus DisplayLazarus S&H StampsLazarus Santa FrontLazarus Santa BackLazarus Santa Wireless

OHIO DEPARTMENT STORES – F & R LAZARUS – COLUMBUS, OHIO

Lazarus, as this department store chain was known, was founded in 1851 by Mr. Simon Lazarus. He had come to Columbus to become a rabbi and ended up opening a small store (one room) on Town Street. At the time, the store only offered menswear.

In 1877, after the death of Simon Lazarus his two sons, Fred and Ralph, took control of the store and started using showmanship to attract customers. For example, in 1890 they contracted with Niagara Soda Fountain to open a shop within the store selling ice cream, ice cream floats and sarsaparilla. After the two brothers took charge, the name was changed to F& R Lazarus.

The store continued to grow so that in 1909 an amazing six story store was built at High and Rich Streets. At 115,000 square feet, it was much larger than needed at the time. However, by 1921 the store was totally occupied and the company was ready for another expansion as it added additional merchandise categories. The company acquired the Columbus theatre to allow for more selling space, making the store the powerhouse retailer in downtown Columbus. At its peak, the store operated buildings covering an entire city block with the main entrance at High and Front Streets.

F & R Lazarus became known for many innovations in the retail industry:

            – One Low Price (no bargaining necessary)

            -First escalators in a department store

            -First air conditioned department store

            -Early adopter of a generous return policy (no questions asked)

The company was known for its social awareness:

            -Became a major employer of women.

            -Became a major employer of physically challenged.

The downtown store was famous for its Christmas activities. It sponsored a major Christmas Parade for the Friday after Thanksgiving Day to compete with the Macy’s Parade in New York City. Elaborate window displays drew major crowds.  A small platform was erected in front of the windows to give children a better view. On the sixth floor, next to the toy department, the auditorium was converted to Christmas scenes and place to meet with Santa.

In 1928, F & R Lazarus acquired the John Shillito Company based in Cincinnati and operated it as a separate business. In 1929, the company worked with Bloomingdale’s (NY), Filene & Sons Co (Boston), and Abraham & Straus (Brooklyn) to form Federated Department Stores.

Lazarus was late to the game in expanding suburban stores, but then it became a powerhouse in the Midwest.

  • The first suburban store was opened in 1962 on West Broad Street in Columbus. At first this store was a failure but became successful as it became a part of Westland Mall.

 

  • The second suburban store was opened in 1964 in Northland Mall. This store was an immediate success.

 

  • In 1973, Lazarus expanded outside Ohio with a store in Indianapolis.

 

  • In 1981, they opened a store in Huntington, West Virginia.

 

  • In 1986, Lazarus merged with the Shillito’s and Rike’s divisions of Federated Department Stores giving them locations in the Dayton and Cincinnati markets.

 

  • In 1987, Federated acquired the William H. Block Company in Indianapolis and the Herpolsheimer’s in Grand Rapids from Allied Stores and converted those stores to Lazarus.

 

  • In 1994, Federated acquired the Joseph Horne Company in Pittsburgh and converted those stores to Lazarus.

 

  • In 2003, Lazarus stores were combined into Macy’s and co-branded Lazarus Macy’s. That same year, the downtown store in Columbus closed.

 

  • In 2005, the Lazarus name was erased and all stores became Macy’s.

 

What happened????

The decline of Lazarus was a result of many reasons:

  • Lazarus had weak leadership in the end. Leadership turnover was high and no one was able to fend off the competition from specialty retailers nor the consumer’s desire to avoid the malls.

 

  • Lazarus’s expenses were high and kept eroding profitability.

 

  • The department store segment was consolidating to reduce the expenses of operating separate division headquarters.

 

  • Department stores were no longer the place for manufactures to showcase their goods. There were too many other retailers available who could offer the manufacturers better business growth with locations more convenient to the consumer and often at prices more advantageous to the consumer.

 

I know that there are so many of you who have shopped at or worked at F & R Lazarus. I hope you will share your memories with others as you look through these old postcards depicting Lazarus.

RON JOHNSON’S DEPARTURE FROM J C PENNEY

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

 

The pundits are having a good time poking fun at Ron Johnson’s expense. Yes, he made big mistakes. However, he was not the real problem.

Penney’s has been declining for years. The real blame belongs to the Board and the prior management. Over the years, J C Penney focused on the same customer and followed those customers as they grew older; management failed to attract younger customer.  Everyone in retail knows the younger customers are the profitable customers. Only during the brief tenure of Allen Questrom and Vanessa Castagna did J C Penney do the right things.

I always believed the probability of success in Ron’s strategy to take JCP upscale and simultaneously attract a younger customer was unlikely. As retailers switch from one customer base to another, the retailer usually first finds the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That is where JCP is today. The old customers do not like what they see and the new customers do not like shopping with the old customers. In my mind, investors cannot afford to take the time required to successfully support a retail turnaround.

I have seen several retailers attempt to make customer base changes. Some that come to mind are:

  1.       Abraham & Straus Department Stores – Brooklyn, New York
  2.       Sears – The Softer Side
  3.       Kmart- The New Kmart
  4.       Mervyn’s – Mervyn’s California

All were colossal failures. On the other hand, Target did successfully make a  change but it was done gradually and over several years. The customer base change was also less significant.

The essence of this story is that the Board and management need to keep their eyes focused on the long-term health of the company versus short-term quarterly tactics. The truth is that a merchant prince can seldom pull off a successful major change in customer base.

RED TAILS — THE MOVIE BY GEORGE LUCAS

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Premier for Red Tails, the new movie by George Lucas.

This movie about the Tuskegee Airmen in World War 2 is American history at its finest!  It is also an enjoyable movie.

I have been lucky to have known George since childhood and have always been proud of his accomplishments. This movie and the related show on the History Channel is his giveback to our society. My heart pitter pats.

John

NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT STORES – ARNOLD CONSTABLE & COMPANY

Friday, December 9th, 2011

ARNOLD CONSTABLE – FIFTH AVENUE – NEW YORK CITY

For years, the Arnold Constable & Company was known as the “oldest department store” in America. It served the ‘carriage trade’ of New York. Famous customers included the Astor’s, Vanderbilt’s, Roosevelt’s, and Mary Todd Lincoln. The company was known for bring the best French fashion to NYC.

 

The company was started in 1825 by Mr. Aaron Arnold, an immigrant from the Isle of Wright. Before he opened his store he had been working with James Hearn, founder of Hearn’s. Mr. Arnold’s first store was located at the corner of Canal and Mercer Streets, then the center for retail. In 1837, a vendor, James Constable, married Aaron’s daughter and then became a partner in the firm. That is when the name was changed to Arnold Constable.

 

In 1868 Arnold Constable opened a new store at Broadway and Nineteenth Streets in NYC. This put the store in the middle the new “Ladies’ Mile” shopping district. It was known as “the Palace of Trade”.

 

In 1914 the company incorporated with reported capital of $2.5m. That same year the company leased the former home of Frederick W. Vanderbilt and started plans for building a new store on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street. At this time it was clear that the shopping district was moving “uptown”.

 

In 1925, Arnold Constable merged with Stewart & Company which led to the expansion into the suburbs. The first suburban store opened in 1937 in New Rochelle, NY. Later, stores opened in Hempstead, Manhasset, and New Jersey.

 

In the 1960’s, the carriage trade retailer of New York started to face economic troubles. As sales declined, expenses were rising significantly. The company started closing the unprofitable suburban stores. In 1975, the store on Fifth Avenue closed. After 150 years, the Arnold Constable name disappeared. The company did continue to manage its no-name stores, a small specialty retailer offering men’s and women’s separates. This was later sold in the 1990’s to YM, Inc, a Canadian retail chain.

 

What happened????   Arnold Constable did not adjust to the newer times and merchandising systems. It continued to cater to a dying “carriage trade” customer and did not attract the younger customers.

 

I visited Arnold Constable in 1973 on a business trip to NYC. I was interested in comparing it to Bullock’s Wilshire and I. Magnin. To me it was clear that Arnold Constable did not know it was hostile to the younger customer. The store also looked dowdy and was not well merchandised. I was not surprised when the company closed a year later.

RETAINING YOUR TOP TALENT AS THE ECONOMY IMPROVES

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

RETAINING YOUR TOP TALENT AS THE ECONOMY IMPROVES

According to all the statistics I read, one in every three employees is desiring to change jobs when another opportunity comes along. Should every employer be concerned?

As the economy improves, executive search firms will be seeking the best talent for their clients. Top talent will be contacted and wooed with opportunities at other companies. This has been the way things work for the past fifty years and I expect it will continue for the next fifty years.

Just because 1/3 of executives are looking to move does not mean it should be of major concern. I feel the question each company should ask itself is … “who are the 1/3 willing to leave?”  If your key and high potential executives are willing to leave, you have a problem. It is time for you to evaluate your key executives to make sure their compensation is in-line with competition and that you have the benefits and stock options in place to keep these executives motivated and owners in the company. At the same time, you need to let them know the importance they play in the company and the future they should expect.

On the other hand, if the one-third willing to leave are not your top team members, maybe this is not a bad thing. If they leave, it will give you an opportunity to recruit and/or develop top talent. Turnover at the bottom performance level often allows new stars to develop and flourish.

Organizations which compensate key employees well, that lock them in with strong benefits and stock option programs, and that offer a bright future, seldom lose their best executives. Executive recruiters know that!

NEW YORK DEPARTMENT STORES – ABRAHAM & STRAUS

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Holiday Card 1904. Front Entrance

NEW YORK DEPARTMENT STORES – ABRAHAM & STRAUS

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

PLUMMER & ASSOCIATES RECRUITS VP BRAND STRATEGY FOR TRUE RELIGION APPAREL

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

True Religion Apparel, Inc. Names Jordan Daly as Vice President of Brand Strategy, Public Relations and Marketing
VERNON, Calif., May 12, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) –True Religion Apparel, Inc. (Nasdaq: TRLG) today announced that the Company has named Jordan Daly as Vice President of Brand Strategy, Marketing and Public Relations effective May 1, 2011. Ms. Daly will be responsible for developing the direction for, and managing all aspects of brand management, marketing, public relations and special projects on a global basis. She will drive a strategic multi-platform communication plan, oversee brand identity and positioning, campaigns, public relations, special events, product launches and internal communications to further build the Company’s market leadership position and maximize profitability. Mr. Jeffrey Lubell, the Company’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Merchant will be directly involved in overseeing Ms. Daly’s initiatives.Ms. Daly was most recently Vice President Public Relations Americas for Burberry Group, PLC. Prior to that, she served as Managing Director with HL Group, LLC specifically overseeing strategic marketing and communication platforms for consumer, fashion and lifestyle clients. Ms. Daly’s additional professional experience includes serving as Public Relations Director with kate spade and she worked in account management and advertisement roles with Factory Communications. Ms. Daly began her career at Harrison & Shriftman and has a B.S., Fashion Merchandising and Marketing from the University of Alabama.Jeffrey Lubell, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Merchant of True Religion Apparel, Inc. stated, “Jordan brings a wealth of knowledge in all facets of brand development that will help further increase our overall brand awareness and affinity. As we continue to expand and further evolve our global presence, Jordan will be instrumental in guiding our efforts to reach our target customer while enhancing our reputation as one of the world’s premier denim and lifestyle brands.”

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.

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