2. John Wanamaker’s Department Store

Wanamaker's Department store
Image via the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections

Alongside his brother-in-law Nathan Brown, John Wanamaker founded a men’s clothing store in 1861 in Philadelphia called Oak Hall. After Brown’s death in 1868, Wanamaker continued the business, eventually purchasing an abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad station to use for a larger retail location. The terminal would come to be known as the Grand Depot and was meant to emulate London’s Royal Exchange and Les Halles in Paris. In 1877, Wanamaker’s added women’s clothing and dry goods, becoming Philadelphia’s first modern-day department store and the inventor of the price tag. Wanamaker cared deeply about his customers and staff, allowing individuals to return purchases for a cash refund if they were unsatisfied and providing employees with free medical care, recreational facilities, profit-sharing plans, and pensions at a time when these benefits were not standard.

At the height of its success, Wanamaker’s operated a store at Broadway and 9th Street in New York City. In 1919, the company’s Manhattan location was deemed by El Mundo to be like 100 special departments all under one roof. Wanamaker’s slow decline began after its founder’s death in 1922, picking up speed as the company lost customers to other retail chains such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. After being sold in 1986 to Woodward & Lothrop, significant resources were invested into the company’s 15 stores in the hopes of turning around profits, though these efforts failed.

Filing for bankruptcy in 1994, the Wanamaker stores were sold to May Department Stores Company, and Wanamaker Inc. was officially dissolved and absorbed into May’s Hecht division. After 133 years of consecutive business, the Wanamaker name was removed from all stores and replaced with Hecht’s. Wanamaker’s New York store was converted into a Kmart in 1996.