Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 13

This building (starting at the left and then jogging) at 192 Main St. in Paterson, N.J., was built for the Quackenbush Co., one of the city's two major department stores. Peter Quackenbush, of Dutch descent like so many early residents of Paterson, opened his own store for business in 1878. John Mason became a partner shortly thereafter and the business prospered until the Paterson fire of 1902. (Johnstown, Galveston, San Francisco, Chicago destroyed; Baltimore, Paterson and many other cities hit by major fires; people of that era would have seen Katrina as just another problem. Was it simply easier to rebuild back then, or was it that we were less taken aback, in that post-Civil War era, by disasters? In any event, many a department store operated from tents or neighborhood storefronts until it could rebuild its headquarters.)

Quackenbush had only one child who lived to adulthood, and his health was not good; he went to Colorado Springs in pursuit of relief, and eventually Quackenbush and Mason sold the store to the Spitzes, who had been in business in Union City. Fittingly for this week, Peter Quackenbush was a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1904, and his resume reads like the most solid of citizens': president of the rescue mission, founder of a home for nurses, builder of a chapel for his church, member of the school board and park commission. Such was the prominence of the local department store owner, particularly when the family that owned your only real competitor, Meyer Bros., lived in Newark and took the train up to run the store.

During the Depression Quackenbush's became part of the Allied Stores chain and then in the 1960s it became part of Stern's, the Times Square department store. When Stern's was bought by Allied in 1951, the company chairman said: "Retailing is a very simple business." He announced plans to open suburban branches. The early 1950s, of course, was when discounters such as E.J. Korvette were beginning to eat department stores' lunch, and New York was a bit less simple than Reading. Eventually Allied developed a two-prong strategy in New York; Stern's expanded into New Jersey, and the Gertz chain, which had grown out of a stationery store in Jamaica, Queens, would carry the flag on Long Island. That left Stern's main store as sort of an afterthought in a declining Times Square, and it was closed, making Stern's a New Jersey chain based at Bergen Mall in Paramus and with a downtown store in Paterson, which wasn't doing well either. Stern's soon moved away to become a nearly ubiquitous store in North Jersey and Meyer Bros. became an extremely low-end department store before burning down in 1991.


Doug said...

Ah, I spent many a day in that building with Grandma, who always shopped in Paterson. None of that Bergen Mall stuff for her.

Frank C. said...

Meyer Brothers was not an 'extremely low-end department store' by any account and that's the reason it did so poorly in Paterson in its final years. It closed in 1987, just less than four years after the building it once occupied was the site of a major fire.

TeleFan said...

My first visit with Santa Claus was at Quackenbush. The photo is long gone.

Kathleen said...

I just learned today that my Grandfather was the credit manager for Quackenbush Department Store in the 1940's. Thank you for the history lesson!