Sunday, September 14, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol.14

High above the clouds -- for some reason there are no low-level shots facing the right direction in Perth Amboy -- is the block of Smith Street that was home to Reynolds Bros., the light-faced building at center right. The store started just after the turn of the century as Reynolds and Hanson, a partnership of George Reynolds and Walter Hanson; John Reynolds quickly became the partner, replacing Hanson, who later turned up as partner in another Perth Amboy store, Sharp & Hanson.

Although the Reynoldses were the merchant princes of Perth Amboy, they moved out of the city early. By 1920 George Reynolds had decamped to Plainfield, and the family remained based there until the late 1950s, when it moved again to the Rumson-Fair Haven area at the northern end of the Shore. The management-class neighborhood of Perth Amboy was oddly located, to the southeast of downtown, in a neighborhood surrounded on two sides by water. It couldn't grow out, and much of the rest of the city was factories and blue-collar neighborhoods, so the upper middle class simply left -- for the Shore, for Metuchen, for various North Jersey suburbs. Similarly, the now-vanished Perth Amboy newspaper first moved to Woodbridge and then changed its name before being subsumed in today's Middlesex County-wide Home News Tribune. Something there was about Perth Amboy that made people not want to identify with it, even though the old upper-middle-class section not only has a fine view of the water but many historic sites.

Perhaps it was the odd name, which is as mysterious in provenance as Newport News. My favorite folk tale is of Lord Perth walking to shore wearing a kilt and the Indian women laughing, whereupon his lordship responded, "No! Perth am boy!" This was in the WPA guide to New Jersey, I am not making this up.

Reynolds Bros. operated suburban stores in Somerville and Toms River, and possibly others, before it closed in the 1980s. It used a butterfly as part of its logo, if I remember correctly.

1 comment:

SandorMax said...

I have a photo of me sitting in Santa's lap upstairs at Reynold's Department Store in Perth Amboy in the early 60's. My mother told me the store was really special and had beautiful high-end goods. Would love to see a photo of it one day.