Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 5? 6?

Wow, a downtown department store that is still a downtown department store. New Jersey's largest department store, L. Bamberger & Co. of Newark, embarked on a program of expansion in the 1950s, building stores first in smaller downtowns and then in shopping centers. The Garden State Plaza and Menlo Park Bam's date from the 1950s and became part of the Great Macyization -- although Bam's was owned by Macy's since the 1920s, so it really doesn't count as part of the rebranding.

The other 1950s stores were in the Princeton Shopping Center and downtown Plainfield and Morristown -- downtowns that served well-heeled suburban counties, but still reflected Bamberger's middle-class clientele. (The more upscale Hahne & Co. had its branches in downtown Montclair and Westfield, which were, well, more upscale.)

Bam's/Macy's stayed here on the Green in Morristown until 1993. It's now a branch of the Century 21 store from lower Manhattan. Some future posts will look at other Bamberger's stores, including the main store in Newark.

Just a few steps around the Green used to be the last independently owned large downtown department store in New Jersey, M. Epstein Inc. It lasted into this decade, but has been torn down for a condo development. Herbert Epstein, the president of the store, had his address at 221B Baker St., though he does not seem to have been prominent in Holmesian matters. As a Sherlock site notes: "An article by Joan Barbato in the Morris County Daily Record ... about the plaque affixed to the outer wall of 221B Baker Street, now a guest cottage on property owned by Herbert Epstein, but formerly the office and official address of Edgar W. Smith in Morristown, N.J. Baker Street is a lane off Lake Road, and when Edgar discovered that the lane had no name, he obtained township and post office approval for the address." Alas, Epstein's department store has now gone over the Reichenbach Falls and will not return.

1 comment:

Mae Travels said...

I wish you would write about another aspect -- employment -- of no-more-local-department-stores. It also has parallels to the situation of newspapers now.

Specifically, getting a job as a clerk in a dept. store at one time was to begin on a career path. You could if gifted/lucky/probably male rise to manage the dept, become a buyer, manage the store. (My uncles did this in the 1920s without even finishing high school, but that was REALLY ancient times.) The combo of corporate ownership and academic/B-school requirements for hiring at probably a remote HQ for the corporation has removed this career path. A sales clerk is probably in a dead end -- for many reasons, including social changes that span all industries.

When did this change? Do you see parallels with the gifted cub reporter or whatever was in the legendary news room? Implications for having the two tier system with women as permanent nothing/helpers and men as potential leaders? You have touched on it, but not so directly.

Thanks... Mae