With news of Lord & Taylor selling its Fifth Avenue flagship store to WeWork — closing after 104 years in business there — it's clear that the future of the department store is uncertain.
There are only a handful left in the city, and even fewer in their original locations. But there was a time when they dominated a section of Manhattan.
Ladies' Mile, a historic district from 15th to 24th streets and from Park Avenue South to Sixth Avenue, was home to the city's most famous department stores and upscale retailers from about 1860 through the end of World War I.
Ladies' Mile was so dubbed because its where women routinely shopped. The area had a feeling of opulence and because it was so popular, it was safe for women to go shopping unaccompanied by men for the first time, according to Jack Taylor, the president of "The Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District."
Shops like B. Altman, Arnold Constable, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Tiffany & Co. and others were found here. They were where you got your gadgets, your suits, your beauty products and your children's toys, plus they offered a more upscale shopping experience than mom and pop shops did.
Now, these fronts contain niche stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond, The Container Store, Old Navy, Trader Joe's and the Burlington Coat Factory.
Although it's not within the Ladies' Mile Historic District, Macy's has famously remained at its flagship location all these years — since 1901.
So as we say "goodbye" to Lord & Taylor's historic halls, we remember the city's iconic stores from yesteryear below.
Abraham and Straus
Abraham and Straus, or A&S, was a Brooklyn dry goods store founded in 1852 by a Bavarian immigrant, Abraham Abraham, and his friend Joseph Wechsler. It expanded into a bigger space at Fulton Street near the Brooklyn Bridge, where it boasted a central court with a glass dome and lounging parlors for women. From there, it opened other locations in Jamaica, Queens, New Jersey, Westchester County and on Long Island. It shuttered in 1995 after its parent company merged with R.H. Macy.
This iconic store, which still runs its Thanksgiving Day Parade and invites children in to meet Santa Claus, has stood on 34th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, for almost 116 years. It started as a dry goods store on 14th Street in 1858, and later moved to Ladies' Mile on 18th Street and Broadway, where it remained for 40 years. After R.H. Macy's family sold it to Isidor and Nathan Straus, it was moved to its current location and expanded over time to the entire block. The store, which is landmarked, still has several wooden escalators from one of its earlier updates.
Shoppers crowd the cashier inside Macy's one week before Christmas in 1942.
Founded in 1918 by Samuel A. Lerner and Harold M. Lane, Lerner Shops was a blouse manufacturer on Seventh Avenue. It expanded to 796 stores before it was purchased by The Limited in 1985, according to an article in The New York Times. It had "a distinguished history with a strong and loyal consumer franchise," Leslie Wexner, the then-owner of The Limited told the paper. In 1995, the company's name was changed to New York & Co. and in 2002, it became its own company. New York & Co. now has more than 500 stores in the country.
This ritzy department store didn't always sell luxury items. It started as a tailor shop in 1899 above Union Square. Herman Bergdorf and Edwin Goodman built the company together, renaming the tailoring company Bergdorf Goodman in 1901. By 1906, the shop moved to 32nd Street, not far from Ladies' Mile. Later, it moved to where Rockefeller Center is now and in 1914 was one of the first stores to introduce ready-to-wear clothes. It didn't move to its present location at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street until 1928. The continued success of the store allowed Goodman to purchase the entire block and sell merchandise by companies like Van Cleef & Arpels and Grande Maison de Blanc. Now owned by Neiman Marcus, the store continues to attract exclusive brands.
Gimbels opened in Herald Square, a block away from Macy's (where H&M is now), in 1910 and went on to compete with that store until its closing in 1986. Its rivalry with Macy's was so well-known that it became part of the plot in the Christmas movie, "Miracle on 34th Street." In fact, it had its own Thanksgiving Day parade that first kicked off in Philadelphia in 1920 (Macy's parade started in 1924). Its merchandise attracted middle-class shoppers with its lower prices and was spread across 10 floors. Eventually Gimbels could be found in towns across New York State and at one time was the largest department store chain in the country. When it closed in 1986, it had been open for about 100 years.