November 24, 2010

Flagships of New York: Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue

the former Lord & Taylor Dry Goods Store,
Ladies' Mile, Broadway and 20th St. southwest corner
In 1826, after emigrating to the United States, Englishman Samuel Lord and his cousin-in-law George Washington Taylor opened a store on Catherine Street in New York City to sell women's clothing. Later, at the outset of the Civil War, Lord & Taylor moved the location to Broadway and Grand. In 1870 they outdid themselves. A new cast-iron store opened at the southwest corner of Broadway and 20th Street in what would be known as Ladies' Mile, a shopping district catering to fashionable women living nearby.

The Lord & Taylor Dry Goods Store on Ladies' Mile, so European and fanciful in its presentation to the street, would have fit in perfectly in the upper class social world of Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence (1920), her portrait of New York society of the 1870s. With its distinctive mansard roof, the building is one of many architectural jewels that still dot the area. The AIA Guide to New York City (revised edition, 2010) comments about the building, "Windows explode everywhere, a time when merchandisers sought natural light. Now, the opposite is true; Lord &Taylor and its peers want a sealed box, with controlled artificial lighting." The company would soon need more room, and another move was underway.

Lord & Taylor's flagship store on Fifth Avenue opened on February 24, 1914. Designed by Starrett & Van Vleck, the building presents an impressive massive facade but without the Renaissance particulars that characterized many buildings in the preceding decades. The location between W. 38th and W. 39th Streets followed the fashionable clientele as they moved in greater numbers up the avenue. Similarly, Benjamin Altman opened his grand new store (now CUNY Graduate Center) on Fifth Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets in 1906. While many of the other established stores moved farther north on the avenue, L & T (as it's often called) continues to anchor this part of the avenue between the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and the Empire State Building on 34th., in proximity to the Garment District and to Macy's in nearby Herald Square.

Lord & Taylor, 424 Fifth Avenue

Even as it expanded as a chain store with locations around the country, Lord & Taylor has often struggled in recent decades, trying to establish its identity while catering to a broad audience with more affordable merchandise. Long part of the Associated Dry Goods (ADG) company, in 1986 the store was bought by May Department Stores, a chain that later merged with Federated. In 2006 Lord &Taylor was sold to NRDC Equity Partners, a firm that subsequently acquired Canada's Hudson's Bay Company. In 2008, the company also acquired Fortunoff's, a store that specialized in jewelry and upscale house wares and one well known to New York shoppers, but Fortunoff's went bankrupt with the deepening of the recent recession.

Lord & Taylor, entrance off of Fifth Avenue

Lord & Taylor's  flagship store on Fifth Avenue has been extensively renovated in the last couple of years, with a very recent overhaul of the home furnishings department on the ninth floor. Walking through the brightly lit first floor cosmetic department, with its clean white paint, monumental columns, and twinkling holiday lights, it does feel that some of its old fashionable ambience may be coming back.

holiday window at Lord & Taylor, 2010

Lord & Taylor, 424 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. What's nearby - Bryant Park, New York Public Library, Morgan Library & Museum, Empire State Building. An additional note for dining and shopping - Sarabeth's operates a restaurant inside the store. For their 2010 holiday window decorations, Lord & Taylor collected personal memories of the holidays, including ones from the store's Facebook friends.

holiday window at Lord & Taylor, 2010

Looking at these windows from afar may be nice, or at home in a comfortable chair, but let's set things in motion.




Saks Fifth Avenue

In 1924 Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel opened Saks Fifth Avenue in an impressive new building on Fifth Avenue. The company was built on an earlier business founded and owned by Horace's father, Andrew Saks, in 1867 and incorporated as Saks & Company in 1902. The merger in 1923 with their Herald Square rivals, the Gimbel Brothers (and there were many brothers - founder Adam had eight sons), who in turn were the great rivals of Macy's, provided the occasion for a rapidly expanding retail empire. Following Bernard's untimely death of septic poisoning in 1925, his cousin Adam became the company's president, leading the store in opening branches in Palm Beach, Chicago, and Beverly Hills. Soon there would be many other Saks Fifth Avenues nationwide, in addition to twenty or so Gimbels. (The New York flagship for Gimbels was located in the space now occupied by the Manhattan Mall.)

exterior, Saks Fifth Avenue at 50th St. St. Patrick's Cathedral is on the left. 

The flagship Saks store on Fifth Avenue, directly across the street from Rockefeller Center built a decade later, won many accolades upon its opening in 1924. The store was one of the first to seriously use elaborate window displays as a form of merchandising. Later renovations included the installation of escalators and the construction of a commercial tower. The company has changed ownership a few times. Proffitt's bought Saks Holdings Inc. in 1998, changing its own name to Saks Incorporated to take advantage of the well-known brand. This past year Saks has closed several of its under performing stores in the United States but has expanded into Saudi Arabia, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The store's financial picture looks good. (Sources: Market Watch and Department Store Retailing News.)


corner of store showing original Saks & Company name

For the 2010 holiday season, the flagship will project digital bubbles on the facade every night, part of a trend incorporating new display technology. The mechanical displays still draw the crowds. For the 2010 windows, a young girl with pink hair dreams of a fashionable holiday.

holiday window at Saks Fifth Avenue, 2010

Will she dream of a forest or of Fifth Avenue? Who knows?




Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Avenue, at 50th St. New York, NY. What's nearby - St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center.


Read all the posts in this series, Flagships of New York:








Images and videos (yes) by Walking Off the Off Big Apple. Check out the new You Tube channel. Many more where this came from. Look for more holiday windows in future posts in this series.

1 comment:

Anton Deque said...

Loved the videos, specially the sounds of the city. Recently in Mayfair and Knightsbridge, London. Recession? How do you spell that?