Sunday, November 9, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 19

Completing our tour of old department stores in New Jersey is this unpreposessing lump on Landis Avenue in Vineland. Cumberland County was nothing but small glass towns and villages, with three medium-size cities, the smallest of which -- Millville -- held what seemed to be the only real department store in the area, Fink's.

In the early 1930s Isadore C. Schwarzman opened his dry goods store at Eighth Street and Landis, but it was not until he moved to 618 Landis Ave. and then brought his sons and sons-in-law into the new firm of I.C. Schwarzman Inc. in the 1950s that his business really became a department store. (This was at the same time that the square-mile city of Vineland combined with the surrounding Landis Township to become the largest city in area in New Jersey. It was a great time for Vineland, which had been a somewhat depressed farm community mainly known for the tomatoes in Campbell's Soup.) Schwarzman's thus never occupied a grand building in the classic department store sense; it was one floor and basement. But it served its community's needs until the malls came along.

The Rovners had similarly expanded their dry goods store in Bridgeton, Vineland's rival, although Vineland clearly was becoming the hub of the area, to the older Bridgeton's chagrin. But Southern New Jersey remained an area of few large cities and lots of farms and small towns, the Garden State of lore. The only substantial downtowns in the lower 5/8 of the state were on the Shore -- Asbury Park and Atlantic City -- or the Delaware River -- Trenton and Camden. It was not until post-World War II suburbanization that the interior areas changed. Of course, we're talking about an area of 40 miles across, but still, the popular conception of New Jersey as played out in the titles to "The Sopranos" is only half of the story. (As of this year, I have lived in New Jersey longer than I lived in Indiana -- so I guess I can call it my state, and it doesn't look like the Pulaski Skyway.) And the sort of urbanization processes that took place in much of the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s came very late to parts of the Garden State, which is why it had so much land for suburban growth in the first place.

We'll next move to surviving department store buildings in Pennsylvania.

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