Sunday, June 15, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, No. 8


Continuing our look at Newark's old department stores, here is an oddball building -- all depth, almost no width. This must have been interesting to shop in. This is the original store owned by the Goerke family, of great prominence in New Jersey retailing -- people who grew up before the 1970s will remember the Goerke stores in Elizabeth and Plainfield, and the Goerkes also owned the Steinbach stores at the Shore.

Rudolph J. Goerke opened for business around the turn of the last century on Market Street, the more downscale street leading to Newark's Four Corners (wrongly called Four Points here last week), but by 1920 had moved into this location at 689 Broad St., north of Market but south of Hahne's. He brought his sons into the firm, but the Depression brought about a reorganization of the Goerke interests, which had grown by that time to include Lit Bros. in Philadelphia. (Although Rudolph Goerke's store in Elizabeth is the one that lasted, he remained a Newark resident. His children spread throughout the North Jersey suburbs, however.) Goerke's closed in the late 1930s in Newark and the store went into the hands of the venerable James A. Hearn & Son, founded in 1827, which at one point had been Macy's main rival for the popular-price trade in New York.

Macy's, however, moved north with Manhattan; Hearn's stayed on Union Square, which eventually became untenable for a traditional department store but was a marvelous place for early discounters such as J.W. Mays (no relation to the May Co.) and S. Klein, almost always known as "S. Klein on the Square." As Time noted in 1946:

"Klein's is not a pretty place. Its floors are bare. There are no saleswomen. Customers must select dresses themselves from the crude iron racks, try them on in crowded public dressing rooms. Klein's does not advertise—except to keep customers away on holidays when the store is closed."

Which shows, apart from the crudity of the iron racks, perhaps, how what was unusual in 1946 has become the norm today at Wal-mart. S. Klein had just been sold to the West Coast chain Grayson, which was seeking an East Coast base. Grayson was in the mood for expansion (it would open a department store in Trenton as well). And Hearn's was beginning its contraction into its final stage, as a one-site store in the Bronx. Thus S. Klein came to Newark and stayed until the chain closed.

Grayson did change the advertising policy, and S. Klein became a large newspaper advertiser, its symbol being an L-shape rule -- with "on the Square" coming to stand for "straight-up deals."

1 comment:

Jan Whitaker said...

Yep, newspapers, department stores -- and public transportation. It's sad how all three have gone down, down, down. Ugly racks in stripped down warehouse stores, gas guzzlers & gridlock, and -- blogs? I just don't see how bloggers can replace reporters.