Thursday, May 12, 2011

Department Store Buildings of the... Vale of Anthracite

I was just talking with my former colleague Jim Remsen, who hails from Clarks Summit, Pa. -- the upscale and up-the-mountain suburb of Scranton. So here's a look at what were Scranton's two big department stores, whose buildings thankfully have lasted until now.

At the upper middle (with the large light roof, and extending to the next building to the right as well) is what generations of Scrantonians knew as the Globe Store. Its official name was the Cleland-Simpson Co. at 119 Wyoming Ave., but it was known initially as the Globe Warehouse, then the Globe Store.  John Cleland, John Simpson, and a Taylor established the Globe in 1878. The company established many branches, among them Trenton and Allentown. Around 1900, John Taylor, son of David, withdrew from the partnership and went his own way in Allentown. By 1910 the Globe was totally under the direction of the Simpson family and its heirs, one of whom was the wonderfully named Urbane Noble.  The other Globes -- there were Globe Warehouses across northeastern Pennsylvania, in towns such as Danville and Carbondale -- gradually withered away, although the Taylor store in Allentown continued until the Depression. The Scranton Globe prospered, however. It expanded downtown in the 1950s, as did so many department stores that 20 or 30 years later were gone, and purchased the Isaac Long Store in Wilkes-Barre.

In the 1970s it was briefly a division of John Wanamaker in Philadelphia, then was spun off in one of the Wanamaker sales (to Carter Hawley Hale or to Woodward & Lothrop) and operated as an independent store until the mid-1990s.Even though it was attached to a downtown mall with a Boscov's store, it could not last and closed in 1994.

Here, I'd like to make a point about historical accuracy. Very few department stores, other than the largest, had books written about their histories, such as happened with Strawbridge & Clothier, Belk Bros., or Marshall Field & Co. Newspapers tended to cover the deaths of department store owners lavishly (thank you for the advertising) and the sale of their companies miserly (are you going to continue to advertise?). Occasionally one will find a treasure trove like the historical records of P. Wiest's Sons at the York County Historical Society. More often, though, one is left with memories, occasional clips, and records that may or may not be reliable.

The Globe Store creates a couple of problems for researchers online. This story from the Scranton Times-Tribune says the Cleland-Simpson Co. was founded by Cleland, Simpson, and William Taylor in 1878. That indeed may be, but by the 1880 city directory David E. Taylor was listed as a partner and the firm was called Cleland, Simpson & Taylor for two decades. (The Times-Tribune story becomes suspect by calling Taylor  "Williams" on second reference.) It also says Cleland bought Taylor's share of the business shortly thereafter. That also may be, but David Taylor was still listed as a partner in the firm in not only the Scranton directory of 1900, but in the Allentown directory as well. So it depends on the definition of "shortly."  Most suspect is the phrase "the Globe and its warehouse." The store was called the Globe Warehouse to emphasize that it sold at lower prices. As it became more established and upscale, it became the Globe Store. But there was never a difference between the store and its warehouse.

The Wikipedia entry on the Globe offers more confusion. It correctly notes that the Danville Globe was operated by Charles Hancock, and notes that he had worked with Cleland, Simpson, and Taylor in Danville and that they then moved to Scranton. This again may well be, as it is taken from an old county history. But that book confuses the issue for modern readers by referring to Hancock's moving back to Danville "where his former employers were located." I assume that it uses "were" to mean "had been." But they had moved on to Scranton and taken Hancock with them, and he then went back home. Hancock opened his Globe in 1883 and may have been an independent operator, but even in those days, it was usual that a store of the same name would either have been started as a branch or the owner would have been "staked" by the original partners. The Wikipedia writer, confused by all this, has Hancock's Danville Globe moving to Scranton, which is inaccurate, because the Globe Store had been in Scranton for five years before the Danville Globe opened.

But on the other hand, in an earlier post I said John Taylor was an original partner in the firm. John Taylor was the son of David Taylor, who either was an original partner or became one in place of the mysterious William Taylor. John Taylor did become a partner with Cleland and Simpson in the Allentown operation briefly, but was never a partner in Scranton. So I guess none of this is completely trustworthy.

The other big store in the photo, on the corner at bottom with a canopy over the sidewalk,  was known to Scrantonians as the "Scranton Dry" or the "Dry Goods," and about this store the Times-Tribune article appears absolutely correct. The Scranton Dry Goods Co. was founded by Isaac E. Oppenheim on Washington Avenue in Scranton in 1912  and quickly moved to occupy a giant store at 401 Lackawanna Ave. that had been built as a branch of Jonas Long's Sons, another Wilkes-Barre store. Isaac and Jonas Long were brothers.   (The Jonas Long firm apparently fell on hard times, because the original store in Wilkes-Barre also was sold around the same era.) The Dry Goods also greatly expanded over the years, including into the much taller building behind it. In the 1970s, in an attempt not to sound archaic, it rebranded itself "Oppenheim's." But it closed in 1980, apparently still run by Ellis and Richard Oppenheim, sons of the founder. The building is used for offices; here's an appreciation.

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