DOWNTOWN, USA – It’s the Christmas shopping season. Not less than a decade ago, most parents had a nearby downtown department store. The visit would usually entail seeing Santa, buying some presents, and in general, picking up some civic spirit and sense of community.
That is all gone. Almost. Thankfully, and by some sort of accident, a few downtown stores have survived, including the Neiman Marcus store in Dallas. It is such a wonderful display it would be worth a visit to Dallas just to see it. Above, a great video we found of the lighting in downtown Dallas this year made by blogger RandomShawn.com. Makes us weepy.
We asked members of the Congress of the New Urbanism’s list serv to help us compile a list of department stores that have survived across the U.S. We were surprised that there were as many as there were still around.
While Macy’s could do much more to unlock the value of the brand names that it has shut down (Burdine’s, A&S, Rich’s, Marshall Field’s), Macy’s (NYSE: M) has at least kept open some of the stores open that it owns. Macy’s is in for a tough time this season, and while we think the re-branding of Marshall Field’s was a disaster, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t praise Macy’s for keeping these stores open.
Thanks to CNU list serv members Brandon C. Mason, Benjamin Weaver, Michael Eversmeyer, Lisa Selin Davis and Charlie Schmehl for helping us out with the list. We would love to add to it as I am sure there are some smaller department stores open in mid sized towns.
- Boston: Filene’s became Macy’s, a great history is at www.dshistory.com. The building survived and is apparently under renovation as Filene’s Basement at 497 Boylston St. Boston, MA, 617-424-5520. If you visit the Downtown Crossing Macy’s, you are actually visiting the original flagship store of Jordan Marsh.
- New York: Of course, there is Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. Lord & Taylor is at 424 Fifth Avenue.
- Brooklyn: The former Abraham & Straus in downtown Brooklyn now operates as a Macy’s.
- Scranton and Wilkes-Barre: There is still an old department store, Boscov’s, in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, according to new urbanist Charlie Schmehl. But the future of that store could be in doubt. There are two department stores in the Mall at Steamtown built in the 1990s in downtown Scranton. They are a Bon-Ton and a Boscov’s. The original owner of Boscov’s was instrumental in that project. Two other old department stores across the street were converted into offices.
- Philadelphia: In August of 2006, Macy’s re-opened in Center City Philadelphia in the former Wanamaker’s building. The building is recognized as one of the most architecturally significant retail spaces in the U.S. and is a National Historical Landmark. “There were originally two modern mid-priced dept. stores (including a Penney’s) in the Gallery indoor shopping mall in Philadelphia (which is proposed to have a slots casino built over it). Now they are a K-Mart and a Burlington Coat Factory. The old Lit Brothers and Strawbridge dept. stores next door were converted into offices. The Lit Brothers building is magnificient,” according to Charlie Schmehl; it was days away from being demolished in the 1980s.
- Norfolk. While Smith & Welton has closed (it is now a branch of the Tidewater Community College), the MacArthur Center Mall in downtown Norfolk has a Dillard’s and a Nordstrom. While they are new, they are truly downtown stores.
- Miami: The old Burdine’s in downtown Miami is now a Macy’s. There is a second urban Macy’s in Miami Beach, which has recently been renovated.
- Pittsburgh. Steel City used to have Kaufmanns, Hornes, Gimbles, Frank & Cedar, Rosenbaums. Today only Kaufmanns survives (barely), but of course it’s a Macy’s. Architect Michael Eversmeyer reminds that it was Edgar Kaufmann who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Fallingwater for him.
- Cincinnati: The former Lazarus store at Fountain Square is now a Macy’s.
- Chicago: You can still go to Chicago’s Marshall Field, but it is now a Macy’s. Sadly, the Carson Pirie Scott building is no longer Carson Pirie Scott, though the chain survives in other locations. Sears, God bless ’em, operate TWO stores that have been in business since November 2, 1925, one on Lawrence Avenue, and the other on 79th Street. These are the oldest continuously operated stores in the Sears system.
- Kansas City: Hall’s, a spinoff of Hallmark, is in downtown at Crown Center and in Country Club Plaza.
- St. Louis: The old Famous Barr store now operates as a Macy’s.
- Minneapolis: Dayton’s on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is now a Macy’s. It’s where Mary Richards threw the hat at the beginning of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
- Dallas: Neiman Marcus still operates its flagship store at Main and Ervay.
- Portland: The old Meier & Frank in downtown Portland is now a Macy’s.
- Seattle: Nordstrom is, of course, in downtown Seattle.
- Los Angeles: Macy’s operates a store at 750 W. Seventh Street, Los Angeles.
We would love it if others could add some additional downtown stores that still remain in our comments section after the article. And there are even more in Canada.
Another now defunct department store gem was, I believe, only in various areas in Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, and one or two in Florida (for some reason). It was called Jacobson’s and it was very special and higher end. It wasn’t so much the designer names or labels (although it certainly had that) but just the aesthetics and personal touches. As someone mentioned above about another department store, if you purchased a coat, suit, dress, or fur, you received a beautiful wood (YES WOOD!) hanger with the gold embossed name Jacobson’s and of course a covering.
The store had a boutique feel with lovely displays, especially for home fashions and bedding. The only place I can think of now to compare is the Ralph Lauren stores in Chicago and NY (and possibly others). The lighting and sound was not like everywhere today…bright and blinding and sterile with awful pop music playing. It was lower light with soothing instrumental (but not Muzak) music which relaxed you, and made you want to stay and therefore, shop! Gee…what a concept.
And the service! Oh my. A world gone by sadly of people taking pride in their job and actually WANTING to help you. Again gee, what a concept.
I could write a book on this, including my disgust with today’s lack of uniqueness, character, or ambiance in shopping; but suffice it to say – I was born in the wrong generation!
Boston Store in downtown Milwaukee is still going and just signed a 10-year deal with the city to maintain the store and its corporate HQ there. A new hotel development across the street and the skywalk system will probably help. But the store has scaled back from seven floors of retail space to just two, making it similar in size to outlying Boston Stores in the metro area. At the other end of the Grand Avenue Mall, a second giant department store, Gimbels, anchored the riverfront. It had eight floors but gave way to Marshall Fields and now TJ Maxx. The massive, columned, 8-story building still stands. Gimbels was based in Milwaukee and the city’s leading store. It had a huge rivalry with Macy’s in New York. Gimbels went dark in ’87, exactly a century after it started up. Macy’s survives, and opened stores in Milwaukee after its competitor’s demise.
How and why can cities like London (Herrod’s, Peter Jones, Liberty), Berlin (KaDeWe) or Tokyo (the Ginza) have beautiful downtown or center city department stores with interesting merchandise and American cities can barely hang on to theirs? Even smaller towns often had interesting five and ten stores–now one is lucky to see cheap, tawdry 99c stores maybe take their places. What is wrong with this country and what can be done to try and make it right? The same goes for beautiful old movie theaters built before 1950 or 1960 at the latest (although by this time television had taken its toll). If only there were a part of cities, not unlike the Williamsburg, Virginia concept, in which people could step back in time to some extent; these sections of various cities could refashion/refurbish certain older areas to imitate life in the 1920s, 1940s/50s or what have you.
Macy’s has a location in downtown Washington, DC that was once a Hecht’s. Macy’s also has a downtown location in Los Angeles at Macy’s Plaza. Downtown Santa Barbara, CA can boast of having Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as shopping choices.
By the way, I just looked at Dunham’s (Wellsboro) facebook page, and there is a video of owner’s daughter showing memorabilia from the store’s past, including a needle selector from the notions dept., and the store’s first cash register, 1920s, all brass. They still do frequent promotions and events, unlike the chain stores.
I worked at S.P. Dunham in Trenton, NJ, in the mid-70s. It had a family feeling and was really a nice place to work, where staff cared about each other. The ad manager, Becky Colbert, was a dynamite lady. The children’s shoe dept. had kiddie seating that was built to look like you were sitting in a train car. (By the way, Wanamaker’s in Phila. had a actual operating monorail hung from the ceiling in the toy dept., only large enough for children to fit in! Luckily, Macy’s has stood behind maintaining the Wanamaker Organ, world’s largest pipe organ, in the Grand Court, which you MUST see to believe; also have an electric-light Christmas show there that suburban folks still bring their kids downtown to see.)
I was delighted in 2003 when I went to Wellsboro, Pa., a small city n central Pa., and found a still-operating Dunham’s Dept. Store, STILL family owned (a different family than the Trenton store). They have a 3-story building, 35,000 sq. feet. It’s a charming place, a REAL dept. store with the service to match. You can check out their website. If you like the flavor of an old-time store, it’s worth a trip to Wellsboro to see it. The town has an annual Victorian Christmas celebration, gas lamps and all.
I currently live in the Lehigh Valley and only will shop at Boscov’s in the mall, because it’s the closest thing around here to a full-service dept. store. When you buy a coat or suit, they put it on a hanger with a plastic hanger bag over it. Support your regional dept. store!
Salem, Or has Salem Center which includes Macy’s, Nordstrom, JC Penney, and Kohl’s in addition to 50-60 other stores.
Portland, Or in addition to the above mentioned Macy’s has a Nordstrom and a new City Target located in the old Old’s and King dept store. There are also TJ Maxx, Ross and Nordstrom Rack stores.
The demise of the downtown department stores also meant the end of the traditional department store Santa Claus in many cities. Now the suburban malls are the main venue for Santa but sadly, the overemphasis on selling photos has had a detrimental effect on the overall image of Santa in most malls.
Regarding surviving downtown department stores, another one is Wilson’s in the small town of Greenfield, Massachusetts.
There is also a four-story Macys and a three- story Nordstrom in downtown San Diego. Traveling out west I also recall there still being small JC Penny stores in many small towns on their main streets/downtowns including Astoria, Oregon; Alamosa, Colorado and Sheridan, Wyoming.
I am looking for information about a department store run by Edward Meyers in Chicago in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. There is a story that he drowned himself in Lake Michigan after the stock market collapse.
In Canada a few large dept stores remain. Victoria has a Bay store, Vancouver has the Bay, Sears and luxury brand Holt Renfrew, Edmonton has the Bay and Holt Renfrew, Calgary has the Bay (huge and historic) and Holt Renfrew spent millions restoring the old Eatons. Regina and Saskatoon both have the Bay and Sears in city centre malls, Winnipeg has a big old Bay store, Toronto has a massive historic Bay which was once Simpsons, Sears in the old Eatons, a second Bay and Holt Renfrew. Ottawa has the Bay and Sears, Montreal has the Bay and wonderful Ogilvys and Holt Renfrew plus Simon and Les Ailes.
Umm…somehow you haven’t mentioned that there are a Macy’s, Nieman-Marcus, a Nordstroms, and a Bloomingdales in downtown San Francisco.
The newly-rebuilt Santa Monica Place mall in downtown Santa
Monica, California has Nordstrom and Bloomingdales as anchors.
There is also a Sears located nearby in a cool Art Deco-styled
I had been looking for anything on old American Department Stores and was really pleased when I came across your list of surviving downtown stores. The responses you received were excellent and one fellow seemed to know just about all the locations! I especially enjoyed the posts about the areas of Minnesota and Iowa as these are places one would hope and expect to weather the storm better than perhaps other regions. We had a store here in Wooster, Ohio which had operated since about the 1880s up until just 2008-09. That was Freedlanders Department Store downtown, and when they closed they listed it as the last surviving independent department store in America. Here in Ohio, Cloeveland had some well known ones in its day including Higbees. From what I understand, a certain amount of furnishings remain inside the now closed store, including the famous Silver Grille restaurant and its related utensils and perhaps cooking equipment remains too. The Nordstroms in downtown Indianapolis is a great benefit to the active feeling one gets when there. Other active shops remain there too; some dating back over 100 years. I find it hard to believe we cant support these great stores today. I go out of my way to shop downtown as much as possible. I believe we all know the one store who is most responsible for the big box mess we are in today. And on the subject of surviving great downtown stores, if you’re ever even remotely close to it, I would urge you to visit Madison, Indiana. They have a downtown that I believe approaches or exceeds 100 stores, and not just the typical ones, they really have a variety of stores just as in the days when downtown shopping could provide you with everything! It is like a step back in time and I think every state should have at least one city such as this; what a difference that environment would make compared to the 4 lane blacktop and endless strip mall world we see too much!
Vancouver, B.C. has two surviving downtown department stores (down from four when I was a kid).
The heritage Bay store at Georgia & Granville and Sears at Robson & Granville. Sears took over the old Eaton’s store when that chain folded in 1999. Both The Bay & Sears downtown are very vibrant, I can’t see them going anywhere in the near future.
At one point last decade Nordstrom was planning to expand into Canada by taking over the main post office building in downtown Vancouver and converting it into a department store, but the deal fell through.
Vancouver also has a rare downtown Costco store, but that doesn’t quite rank with the traditional stores.
White Plains, NY has Sears, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom downtown.
Stamford, CT has Macy’s and Saks downtown.
Greenwich, CT has a Saks and maybe something else.
Garden City, NY has a Lord & Taylor and a Sears downtown.
Westfield, NJ has a Lord & Taylor downtown.
Here are the names of the great department store that I recall from years past: In Norfolk: Smith& Welton, W.G. Swartz, Ames & Brownley, and Rice’s.
In Richmond: Miller and Rhodes and Thalhimer’s.
In Washington DC: Garfinkle’s, the real Lord and Taylor, Hecht’s, and the great Woodward and Lothrop.
In Cincinnati: the lovely Pogue’s, the legendary Closson’s, Shillito’s, and McAlpins.
In NYC: Best and Co, Bernard Altman, Lord and Taylor, Gimbal’s, Rogers-Peet, and Ohrbach’s.
downtown seattle also has a 300,000 square foot macys used to be the bon marche flagship store and the flagship 400,000 squarefoot nordstroms in downtown
Trenton NJ S P Dunhams, Sears, Lit Brothers, Nevius Voorhees, Arnold Constable, Yards, and Hurley-Tobin were all in downtown. Dunham’s lasted the longest (mid 1980s).
Only Yards (now small stores), Sears (state gov’t), and Nevius (offices) buildings are standing. The Capital Center at State and Broad is still known as the Dunham’s block although the building(s) were completely razed. Part of the Hurley-Tobin store is standing.
In Allentown PA, H. Leh and the great Hess store closed in the 1990s. The Leh store was gutted and converted into offices while Hess’s was completely torn down.
In Bethlehen PA, Orr’s was gutted and successfully converted into a mini-mall.
In Easton PA, Orr’s was gutted and converted into Two-Rivers Landing and the Crayola Factory.
Binghamton NY Boscox’s on Court Street
Wilkes-Barre PA Boscov’s
both are located within old traditional downtown buildings
Augusta, GA still has a local downtown department store Ruben’s, and Spartenburg, Union, and Laurens, SC all have outposts of the local John Graham chain, along with Waynesville and Forest City, NC. These stores go by a variety of names such as Carolina Cash Co, Graham Cash Co, and John Graham.
Hackensack, NJ has a big Sears downtown.
Wisconsin – Continued
Wisconsin Rapids: Just across the river from downtown, and within walking distance, the Rapids mall holds JC Penney and Younkers
Appleton: Now closed, Younkers was part of the Avenue Mall downtown until the mid-2000’s. Prior to that, the building housed Marshall Fields.
Green Bay: The region’s largest mall – Port Plaza – was located downtown and was vibrant through most of the 90’s, although it is now closed along with all of the department stores. It was attached to aYounkers (Ex-Prange) dating to the 1920’s, mall adding a Boston store and a JC Penney.
Osh Kosh: also had its primary mall located downtown on the waterfront into the early 90’s. Park Plaza had a Sears, JC Penney and a Younkers (ex-Prange), all now closed.
Sheboygan: The Boston Store still has a freestanding department store downtown
Sturgeon Bay: Younkers has a freestanding store downtown
Milwaukee: The Grand Avenue, a downtown mall created out of a historic arcade, has both a Boston store dating back decades and a newer TJ Maxx. Until the mid 90’s Marshall Fields was also located in the mall
I’ll try to take on some more states later
I don’t know why they’ve always intreged me, but I still like the romance of downtown shopping. It may be because I was coming of age just as they were all closing. At any rate, because of my job, I have had the opportunity to travel to most American cities and found that while downtown department stores are becoming rare, they do still exist.
St Paul: Macy’s – still open. It’s a former Dayton’s. A former Carson Pirie Scott in an urban mall (Towne Square) across the street closed in 1992.
Minneapolis: Downtown is still vibrant compared to most cities, with two (struggling) enclosed malls (Gaviidae Commons and City Center) and four department stores. Saks Off 5th which was a conversion in the mid 200’s from a full line Saks, as well as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s (A former Daytons) and Target, which is based in downtown Minneapolis. Marshalls is also downtown. TJ Maxx closed a few years ago, and Montgomery Ward which was housed in a former Carson Pirie Scott (and Donaldsons before that) closed in the mid 90’s.
New Ulm: A small town with a dead downtown mall (Marketplatz Mall) still occupied by a Herbergers Department store. The mall seems to have a new website
St Cloud: Downtown St Cloud has another Herbergers along with the former Herberger’s headquarters. Herberger’s merged with Carson’s and other stores into Sak’s of Birmingham, AL in the 1990’s.
Le Sueur: While no departments stores remain, this smalltown (population 3,500) still has a dying downtown mall. It appears to have housed a variety store, a County Kitchen, a supermarket (which remains) and an appliance store among other business. Le Seuer was also the birthplace of the jolly Green Giant.
Mason City: The town’s primary mall (Southbridge Mall) is located downtown. JC Penney and Younkers are the anchors
Sioux City: until just a couple of years ago, Sioux City still had 3 department stores downtown. JC Penney closed and was turned into a reservations office for Northwest Airlines (Now Delta). Younkers closed even more recently, and appears to have become HOM furniture store (A large Minnesota chain). Across the street is a locally based Bomgaars, which is like a small Fleet Farm.
Des Moines: Until 2005 the downtown still had both Younkers and the Younkers Headquarters.
Iowa City: Until 1998 when the Coral Ridge Mall opened, Downtown Iowa City was home to both JC Penney and Younkers at the Old Capital Mall. Younkers remained open into the 2000’s, and the mall still exists, but without anchors.
Wausau: Like Mason City, Wausau Center the region’s primary mall is downtown with JC Penney, Sears and Younkers
Stevens Point: Centerpoint Marketplace mall is a downtown mall that is less successful than Wausau center, but still houses JC Penney, Dunhill Sports, and Shopko
Wisconsin Rapids: Just across the river from downtown, and within walking distance, the Rapids mall holds JC Penney
There are more to add:
As in a comment above, Charleston, SC has a small Saks Fifth Avenue downtown.
Greenville, SC has a Mast department store that is just a few years old; it’s in a former Meyers-Arnold department store building on North Main Street, right downtown.
There are other Mast locations, all in downtowns in the Carolinas and Tennessee. Not a Macy’s or a Dillard’s, but Mast stores have clothes, shoes, housewares, gifts, candy, etc.
Sadly, Charlotte, NC just lost its tiny downtown Belk store, as did Birmingham, AL.
Thanks so much for the great NM clip of their lighting. Thanks also for the great article — Your article is meant to highlight those relics of stores that were at one time true full line houses of fashion and entertainment with wonderful dining options and fantastic forgotten options, that we would not understand in our throw away world of today, such as watch shops and silver refurbishing, etc. To visit a city and see the once great retail buildings of that place such as Kaufmann’s 12 story downtown flagship or (the sad leftover of) John Wanamaker or the incredible Marshall Field building is to see a small glimpse into the local pride and success of that place. That some of these incredible art works of architecture are still whole, or somewhat whole, and can be seen and experienced is a true present day gift and anyone interested in Retail history or Architectural history should avail themselves of these opportunities, before they truly are all gone.
You are confused about Boston; Filene’s Basement has been a separate company since about 1988. It has gone bankrupt twice since then & is now owned by Retail Ventures, Inc. It retains some of it’s cache, but it is closing 11 of 36 stores this month. The signature downtown store was supposed to reopen this year, but the building was gutted & the redevelopment has failed leaving a hole in the ground & a facade, and a downtown shopping area depressed even before the current downturn. The Macy’s across the street was Jordan Marsh which merged with Macy’s earlier. Macy’s is about half the size of Jordan Marsh (or Filene’s), with the other floors leased as office space.
I’d like to add to your list ….. Downtown Pittsburgh also has a Saks Fifth Avenue …. and for the record, any downtown department store-less city in the country would be thrilled with a store half as nice and full of goods as the downtown Macy’s/Kaufmann’s; downtown Portland also has a Saks Fifth Avenue, with a separate store for men’s wear; St. Paul has a Macy’s nee Marshall Field’s nee Dayton’s; the former Foley’s in downtown Houston is now a Macy’s; Chicago has a second Macy’s in Water Tower Place and nearby are Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s; in downtown Indianapolis, Nordstrom and Carson Pirie Scott anchor Circle Center Mall; flagship stores abound in San Francisco, clustered in the Union Square area: Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s; in downtown Seattle, the former Bon Marche is now a Macy’s; in Milwaukee, the Boston Store still welcomes shoppers to its flagship store at the city’s Grand Avenue shopping arcade; downtown/Back Bay Boston also boasts branch stores of Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus; in Providence, the multi-level Providence Place mall downtown is anchored by Nordstrom and Macy’s; downtown Boise, Idaho, is home to a freestanding Macy’s; in Spokane, Washington, another former downtown Bon Marche now sports the Macy’s banner; in downtown Salt Lake City, Nordstrom and Macy’s are part of the city’s two redeveloped shopping malls; downtown Norfolk, Virginia, is home to the MacArthur Center mall, anchored by Nordstrom and Dillard’s; residents and tourists to downtown Charleston, South Carolina, can stop in at a Saks Fifth Avenue, as can they in New Orleans at the Shops at Canal Place; in San Antonio, the Rivercenter Mall is anchored by Macy’s; and in Anchorage, Nordstrom and JCPenney anchor the downtown Fifth Avenue Mall.
Cincinnati also has a Saks department store downtown. It is located directly across from Macy’s on 5th Street near Fountain Square.
This article has a list of some of the stores since 2004; it is out of date but some more information.
Here’s photos of the old Gimbel’s store in Philadelphia, which was demolished.
Here’s renderings of the new Lancaster County Convention Center that is under construction in Center City Lancaster, PA. It uses the elaborate preserved facade of the Watt and Shand Department Store, and also preserves the historic home of Sen. Thaddeous Stevens.
(click Architect’s Rendering on upper right hand side)
There used to be a famous rivalry between Macy’s and Gimbel’s in Manhattan. At one point, Gimbels in NYC was the largest department store in the country. Gimbels was then bought by a tobacco company and the Manhattan store was closed. The building, designed by Daniel Burnham, is now a non-descript indoor mall and collection of fast-food restaurants, named the Manhattan Mall.
Gimbels also had an anchor store across from Lit Brothers Dept. Store on E. Market Street in Center City Philadelphia. It was demolished circa early 1970s and has been a vacant lot ever since. At one point in the early 1990s, Disney proposed to build an indoor theme park on the site.
Recently, the Boscov’s chain in eastern PA went through re-organizational bankruptcy. The founding family wanted to buy the chain back from creditors. In the Fall of 2008, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Wilkes-Barre and the City of Scranton each provided financing to help make the acquisition work. I believe the cities used loans against their future CDBG allotments. Boscov’s has anchor stores in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, as described above.
That was the first public “bailout” of a department store chain that I have heard of.
Don’t forget Hecht’s now Macy’s in downtown Washington, D.C.