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Showing posts from November, 2010

Flagships of New York: A Self-Guided Holiday Walk to New York's Department Stores

Somewhere the other day in a New York department store - where was I? - stopping to chat with a cosmetic representative and to try a whiff of perfume, riding the escalator to the store's main restaurant, examining the selection of leather wallets, asking directions from an elegant worker in black, searching for the holiday decorations on whatever floor, locating the women's room, trying on a trench coat, gazing upward at the vaulted main floor lit up in bright white lights - can't remember - the exterior world dissolved. Suddenly there was only the world of the store, a certain kind of place with its own life and culture. Without a view of the outside, the inner world of the artificially lit universe collapsed on itself. Time and place were suspended.


While recalling some of the department stores of New York holidays past - Gimbels, Bonwit Teller or B. Altman, there's the realization that the stores operate within a larger economy and could vanish. Owners can sell off …

Flagships of New York: Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel

Update: In September 2018, Henri Bendel announced it was closing all of its stores in January 2019, including the store on Fifth Avenue.

The series Flagships of New York: The Great Department Stores continues with a look at Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel.
• Bergdorf Goodman 754 Fifth Avenue, 58th
The one and only Bergdorf Goodman remains an exception among the great New York department stores, because the company chose to limit its business to the pair of stores on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street (and online now, of course). Its main store sits on the west side of 58th Street and the men's store on the east side of the avenue. Bergdorf Goodman's exclusivity is accentuated by its geographical proximity to its posh neighbor - The Plaza, directly to the north, as well as the sight of the horse-drawn carriages lining up at the southeast corner of the park nearby. If you want to shop at BG, you have to come to one of the most important intersections in Manhattan.  
At the end of th…

Flagships of New York: Bloomie's and Barneys

The series Flagships of New York: The Great Department Stores continues with a look at Bloomingdale's and Barneys New York.

Bloomingdale's
1000 Third Avenue, 59th St.

In 1861, the sons of entrepreneur Benjamin Bloomingdale, Joseph and Lyman, opened Bloomingdale's Hoopskirt and Ladies' Notions Shop on the Lower East Side. Ten years later, with the hoopskirt going out of style, they opened their East Side Bazaar, expanding the business to offer a wider variety of women's fashions. In 1886 the brothers moved uptown to 59th Street and Third avenue. In 1930 Bloomingdale's built the grand Art Deco building that houses the current store, an ambitious presence that commanded a full city block. The opening of the Lexington Avenue subway line in 1915 took shoppers directly to the store, and the company capitalized on this convenience with the advertising campaign "All Cars Transfer to Bloomingdales."


Bloomingdale's currently operates forty stores nationwide,…

Flagships of New York: Macy's on the Home Front, Photographs by Marjory Collins for the FSA/OWI

(updated) The week before Christmas in December of 1942, photographer Marjory Collins (1912-1985), working on assignment for Roy Stryker's Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information photographic division, took her camera to the R. H. Macy and Company department store on 34th Street in New York and shot several pictures of the busy holiday scene. It was also wartime, clearly telegraphed in some of the images. Her photographs served the mission of the government agency to show that domestic life continued as normal during the war, and they also relayed the importance of thrift and morale-boosting on the homefront.


Though Collins is not as well known as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and other FSA/OWI photographers, her story should interest New Yorkers.

According to the biographical essay from the Library of Congress, she was a native New Yorker, born into a prominent family. As a young woman, she made her social debut, followed by a proper marriage to a Ya…

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

UPDATE: On June 5, 2018, Hudson's Bay Company announced the closing of its Lord &Taylor NYC flagship store. (CBS MoneyWatch story.)

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 on…

Flagships of New York: The Great Department Stores

While shopping in the Bloomingdale's flagship store on 59th Street the other day, I took a break from browsing to sit down and enjoy a little dessert at the store's 40 Carrots restaurant. I was sitting at a counter that runs underneath a large mirror and observing the comings and goings of the many well-dressed women behind me. I also fleetingly glanced at the reflections of several women of a certain age sitting at the counter. With their well-coiffed hair and careful makeup, donning artfully arranged scarves, perfume, and earrings, I thought of the song "Ladies Who Lunch," a satire of leisure class women from Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. Instead of the mocking tone of the song and memorable delivery by Elaine Stritch, however, I found myself sympathetically connecting to these women and to a tradition. This scene was frozen in time, maybe in the 1940s or 1950s, and I could remember my mother at such a place in years past. This could be me in 2030, I thou…

The Village Street: Hipstamatic Images of Greenwich Village, a Map, and a Walk

The Village has its share of green spots, but the downtown equivalent of the village green - the shared communal space that traditional villagers used for grazing and celebrations - would probably be its famously intricate web of streets. The off-grid narrow alleys and cobblestoned streets make the neighborhood, especially in its western sections, one of the most entertaining to explore on foot. The scale of the buildings, residences and shops encourages intermingling and stopping for a chat, the kind of interactions neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs noted in her books on the city. When developers propose a gargantuan project for the Village, the natives, not surprisingly, grow alarmed.

While exploring the streets to research the previous post, 25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village, I took many images of Village scenes using the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. A popular app for camera phones (see related post), the Hipstamatic's filters, limited field of vision, and square …

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change.


(Revised and updated.)Flipping through Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today. 

On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church is still there, but buildings housing the law school have replaced adjacent older buildings. The park itse…

Required City Reading: 25 New Books for New York, New York

What follows is a list of exciting books published in 2010 that involve New York City as a prominent setting. In various manifestations, the city appears as the culmination of creative success, a troubled dystopia, the place of theatrical dreams, a crime scene, a sports venue, or in the case of the last five books, a really good place to start a restaurant.
Literary Fiction:
• Michael Cunningham, By Nightfall: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). 256 pages. The author of The Hours has set his new novel in contemporary New York - SoHo, to be exact, with a story of an art dealer and an editor whose lives are interrupted by a beautiful nephew.
• Paul Auster. Sunset Park. (Henry Holt and Co., 2010), 320 pages. One of the mainstays of New York fiction brings us a new tale of twenty-something artists searching for connection in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood.
• Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty (Grand Central Publishing, November 23, 2010), 304 pages. The talented funnyman and w…