The flagship store of the largest department store company in the country is at the top of most New York tourists’ lists. Around it, Herald Square attracts a crowd second only to Times Square less than ten blocks north. Macy’s Inc., now a nationwide conglomerate of over 700 stores, began over 100 years ago as the R.H. Macy and Company Store. It has occupied its Herald Square location since 1902, a building that was named a National Historic Landmark back in 1978 and carries with a storied past. Here’s what we dug up about the largest store in America.
10. The Red Star Logo is Taken From One of R.H. Macy’s Tattoos.
R.H. Macy and Co. was founded in 1843 by its namesake, 21 year old Roland Hussey Macy. At 15, Macy worked on a whaling ship called the Emily Morgan near Nantucket Island where he was born, and had a red star tattooed on his hand. The original Macy and Co. logo included this red star, appropriated by Macy as a symbol for success. It has remained a part of the company’s many iterations and redesigns of its logo ever since.
9. Herald Square was the Fifth Macy’s Store and the First Not To Fail
R.H. Macy and Co. was started, believe it or not, in Massachusetts as a series of dry goods stores in downtown Haverhill that were built between 1843 and 1855 to supply the mill industry workers at the time. Each one failed no more than a few years after opening, after which Macy resolved to move the business elsewhere to New York City.
8. The Company Once Used a Steam Wagonette to Transport Customers to Herald Square From 14th Street
Macy’s Herald Square’s New York predecessor was a store on 6th Avenue and 14th Street called R.H. Macy Dry Goods. The early 20th century, 14th Street was Manhattan’s prime dry goods district. When Macy’s moved to its current location on 34th Street, the company paid for a steam wagonette to ferry customers from 14th Street to 34th Street.
7. The Corner Building was a Ploy to Stop the Store From Becoming the Largest in the World
That red shopping back sign is built on a five-story building that remained when Macy and Co. attempted to expand the store’s 34th Street Location. The corner building was Robert H. Smith, a New York businessman, in 1900 for $375,000 in un-inflated dollars. Smith is largely believed to have been working under the orders of Siegel-Cooper, a competitor dry goods store who boasted that they were the largest store in the world a few years ago in 1896. Smith bought the property hoping to use it as leverage to Siegel-Cooper could get Macy’s 14th street location.Ignoring the building altogether, Macy and Co. built its 2.2 million square foot department store around it, making the corner one of the city’s holdout buildings. The shopping bag sign is a lease agreement made between the company and the current owners of the building. In case you were wondering, it was the largest store in the world for quite some time until 2009, when the South Korean department store chain Shinsegae opened a 3.2 million square foot store in Korea.
6. 4,000 Employees Work in the Store During the Holidays
The department store makes sales of over $9 billion dollars every year, with a sizable portion of that attributed to the holidays. An estimated 4,000 employees work at the store in December to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to the store for a good deal.
5. There are 5 Starbucks Locations and a Champagne Bar Inside the Store
Macy’s Herald Square holds five separate Starbucks locations, practically one on every other of its nine floors. The locations inside the store are owned by the company and hire its employees through the same services. Additionally, Starbucks owns an exclusive champagne bar found near the women’s shoe department. This, added to a list of in-store food vendors like McDonalds, Pinkberry, Au Bon Pain, and Juice Press make Macy’s Herald Square a place you don’t ever have to leave. The ninth floor even sells mattresses and furniture.
4. The Store’s Second Owner, Isidor Straus, Died on the Titanic
Image from Wikimedia Commons in public domain
Isidor Straus assumed ownership of Macy’s Herald Square with his brother Nathan in 1895, years after R.H. Macy’s death and the company’s passing through members of the Macy Family. Isidor Straus is the owner who actually oversaw the construction of the Herald Square store, but died only ten years after its opening aboard the Titanic with his wife, Ida. They were portrayed for a moment in the James Cameron film Titanic as the elderly couple who remain in their room even as the ship floods. In their memory, the seventh floor of the Herald Square store includes a plaque, known as the “My Heart Will Go On” plaque.
3. Some of the Store’s Wooden Escalators Are Still Operational
Macy’s Herald Square was the first store in the world to have a modern escalator, regarded back then as the latest technological marvel. Some of them with wooden steps still exist throughout the store.
2. In 1943, the Store Sold Airplanes
The store was reported in 1946 to have sold airplanes to customers. This, coming from a pre-Model T society in which almost 30% of the country answered a 1930 Ladies Home Journal survey saying that they expected to own an airplane at some point in their lives, is not particularly surprising. In addition to airplanes, the store sold full-scale model houses on its ninth floor.
1. The Store Sold a Number of ‘Firsts,’ Including the Baked Potato
In its early years, Macy’s Herald Square was the pinnacle of New York’s shopping scene. Its floors were often grounds for innovative new products, foods, and other merchandise. It was the first store to sell things like the tea bag, the baked potato, and bath towels in personalized colors. It was also the first retailer in New York to hold a liquor license.