From Gimbels at Herald Square to Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue, many now lost department stores once stood at the epicenter of New York City’s shopping culture. Today, what remains of these stores stand as repositories of a bygone era when shopping never took place through a virtual screen. New York City department stores served as more than just symbols of consumerism, forming part of the city’s ethos of aspiration, invention, and reinvention. In the walls of the city’s lost department stores lies the history of generations of New Yorkers — memories that unless acknowledged stand the chance of being forgotten.
1. 280 Broadway (A.T. Stewart Dry Goods Store)
Once located at 280 Broadway between Chambers and Reade Streets in Tribeca was one of the nation’s first department stores. Known as the “Marble Palace,” 280 Broadway was built from 1845 to 1846 for entrepreneur Alexander Turney Stewart’s company on the site of Washington Hall — the former headquarters of the Federalist Party. The building was designed by John B. Snook of Joseph Trench & Company and was New York City’s first commercial building constructed in the Italianate style and the first clad in Tuckahoe marble.
Now one of the city’s lost department stores, A.T. Stewart’s was unique in featuring a series of marketing initiatives intended to increase the volume of turnover and keep up with the increasing capacity of industrial manufacturing. It was also among the first of its kind to set fixed prices for goods. Often drawing female customers through special sales and fashion shows, the department store helped make its section of Broadway famous among the city’s elites for window shopping.
Stewart’s department store eventually moved further uptown in 1862 to a new full-block building between East 9th and 10th Streets. Following the department store’s departure, 280 Broadway was converted into a warehouse before being bought by the New York Sun in 1917, which renamed it the Sun Building. In 1965, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark and designated a New York City landmark in 1986. Though the building was acquired in 1966 by the New York City government to be demolished for the redevelopment of the Civic Center, this plan never came to fruition. Instead from 1995 to 2002, 280 Broadway was rehabilitated, and the city’s Department of Buildings now uses it to house various retail stores.