Saturday, June 28, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, No. 9

Continuing our walk south on Broad Street in Newark, we come to the store that was known, depending on one's age, as 1) L.S. Plaut & Co., 2) Kresge Department Store, 3) Kresge-Newark Inc. or 4) Chase. The Plaut family opened their business in 1870, although it was a fancy-goods retailer until the 1880s when it went into dry goods. Until the growth of Bamberger's, it was Newark's largest department store.

The Plauts held onto the store until 1923, when it was sold to Sebastian S. Kresge, the five-and-dime king. Kresge, having conquered the low-end business, apparently wanted to enter department-store retailing as well. He also bought The Fair in Chicago, and for 10 years had an interest in Steinbach's in Asbury Park. His initial aim was simply to move into the next price range -- 25 cents to a dollar -- but the stores generally operated as traditional department stores with no upper limit to their prices.

Kresge immediately built a new, larger building for the store at 707 Broad St., which became the Kresge Department Store. It was run by Kresge Department Stores Inc., which was separate from the S.S. Kresge Co. but had many of the same officers. (It strikes me as odd that Kresge never bought a department store in Detroit, which was his headquarters.) The overall business was controlled by the Kresge Foundation.

In the 1940s, Kresge wanted to put his store more firmly between Hahne's and Bamberger's, and adopted the name Kresge-Newark, with its ads becoming more sophisticated. Also, a branch opened in East Orange -- then a very affluent suburb with branches of New York department stores, the apartment-house "Gold Coast" of Newark. (Alas, it's not that now.) But the department stores were Sebastian Kresge's dream, not his foundation's. In 1957 The Fair had been sold to Montgomery Ward, which operated it as its downtown Chicago store. After Kresge's death, the Newark operation was sold to David Chase. Chase, a concentration-camp survivor, had built a personal empire from Hartford; the Newark operation appears to have been his only dabble in department stores. After three years, the riots of the 1960s hit Newark, and he was done with it.

There's a Kresge-Newark stop on a ghost subway line in Newark, the Cedar St. subway that was built in the 19-teens. Subway service was abandoned in the 1930s, but the line was kept in use for buses for a while, as the use of the 1940s-era Kresge-Newark logo shows.

Department stores and newspapers .... the Chase family has been mentioned as a possible buyer of the Hartford Courant, should Sam Zell put it on the market.
We've now walked down Broad Street from Hahne's almost to Four Corners. Next we'll turn west on Market Street to New Jersey's largest store.

No comments: