Meier & Frank

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This article is about the Meier & Frank retailing company. For the historic downtown Portland building which housed its flagship store see Meier & Frank Building
Meier & Frank
Former type Department store
Industry Retail
Fate Merged into Macy's
Founded 1857
Defunct September 8, 2006[1]
Headquarters Portland, Oregon
Products Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares.
Parent 1966–2005: May Department Stores
2005–2006: Federated Department Stores, Inc

Meier & Frank was a chain of department stores founded in Portland, Oregon, and later bought out by the May Department Stores Company. Meier & Frank operated in the Pacific Northwest from 1857 to 2006.[1]

History[edit]

Summary[edit]

Meier & Frank was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1857, and acquired in 1966 by May Department Stores. May operated it as a separate division for nearly forty years, expanding the chain to Utah in 2001, as a result of a conversion of May Company's Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) stores purchased in 1999. In 2003, it was consolidated with North Hollywood, California-based Robinsons-May, but retained the historic Meier & Frank name in the Oregon, Utah, and Washington markets.

May was acquired by Federated Department Stores, the parent company of Macy's, on August 30, 2005. On that day the former May Company divisions were dissolved and operational control of the Meier & Frank stores was assumed by Macy's Northwest. Federated decided to rename the store chains that it had acquired through its takeover of May – including Meier & Frank – as Macy's,[2] and the change took effect about a year later.[1] The final day of operation under the Meier & Frank name was September 8, 2006.[3] (The following year, Federated also changed its own name to Macy's, Inc.)

The company's flagship store was the historic Meier & Frank Building. This location is now called Macy's at Meier & Frank Square. The building was restored with little attention to historical accuracy paid to the interior. The lower five floors and basement are now occupied by Macy's, following completion of renovation of that part of the building in October 2007.[4] The nine upper floors were converted in 2007–08 to a luxury hotel, The Nines (the name coming from a play on words combining the number of stories the hotel occupies with the idea of spiffy dress).

Founding late 1800s[edit]

In 1857, Aaron Meier (1831–1889) arrived in the Oregon Territory at the age of 26 and opened a 35-by-50-foot (11 m × 15 m) mercantile store at 137 Front Street in Portland, which had a population of 1,300. He had come to California from Bavaria during the Gold Rush, spending time as an itinerant peddler in southern Oregon. He formed a partnership with a Mr. Mariholtz and began selling merchandise that arrived by steamer from San Francisco and in the covered wagons rolling along the Oregon Trail. Ten years later, Meier returned to Ellerstadt (in today's Rhineland-Palatinate) after his father died, leaving Mariholtz to run the business. During his extended stay in Ellerstadt, Meier married a local woman, Jeanette Hirsch (1843–1925) and returned with her to Portland. Meanwhile, back in Portland the dry goods store had collapsed financially, bringing the partnership to an end. Aaron Meier started a new store with his $14,000 inheritance, in larger quarters of 25 by 100 feet (7.6 m × 30.5 m), at 136 Front Street. He hired Emil Frank (1845–1898) in 1870 and Emil’s younger brother Sigmund Frank (1850–1910) in 1872. A year later, Emil Frank became Meier’s partner and the store became known as “Meier & Frank”.

In 1878, the great Portland fire destroyed 20 downtown blocks, including the store, which was immediately rebuilt. Sigmund Frank became a partner in the store in 1884, and a year later married Aaron’s only daughter, Fannie Meier (1865–1930). In 1885, Meier & Frank built its own two-story masonry building, 100 by 200 feet (30 m × 61 m), on Taylor Street between First and Second. Two years later the first “Friday Surprise” sale was held on April 29.

In 1888, Emil Frank left the partnership after years of simmering management differences, and Sigmund Frank became Meier’s sole partner just before Meier died in 1889. The name of the store thus remained “Meier & Frank”. Sigmund became the president and Aaron Meier’s widow, Jeannette Hirsch Meier, ran the store behind the scenes, having brought several half-brothers and nephews from Bavaria to work in the store.

In the great flood of 1894, the street level of Meier & Frank was three feet deep in water. Customers were brought into the store in rowboats and stepped onto raised walkways to do their shopping.

Meier & Frank emerged as “One of America’s Great Stores” as it moved uptown into its elegant five-story building, 200 by 100 feet (61 m × 30 m), on Fifth Street (now Fifth Avenue) between Alder and Morrison in 1898. The building had two elevators and many mechanical innovations never before seen on the Pacific Coast. The opening of the building marked the transition from the old “country store” type of operation to a modern department store. The “new look” represented 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2) of floor space, 68 times more than when Aaron Meier began 40 years earlier. Meier & Frank pioneered the concept of a "money-back guarantee", until then unheard-of in merchandising.

Early 1900s[edit]

Ten years later, the store erected an adjacent annex of 130 by 100 feet (40 m × 30 m), ten stories above the street, with two basements, making it the tallest store in the Pacific Northwest and Portland's lone skyscraper. Designed by architect A. E. Doyle, its white terra-cotta exterior set a design trend in downtown Portland, leading to the famed “wall of white” on S.W. Alder. At Sigmund Frank’s death, Aaron Meier’s elder son Abe Meier (1868–1930) became president, serving as the store’s greeter, while his younger son, Julius (1874–1937), became vice president and general manager—running the store. The store’s green delivery wagons (later its delivery trucks) were ubiquitous in Portland, with the company willing to deliver purchases of any size—even a spool of thread.

The company provided the furnishings for the Fairmount Hotel, constructed to serve out-of-town visitors to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.[5]

The Meier & Frank Building, the company's longtime flagship store, in downtown Portland (in 2014)

In 1913, the five-story building on Fifth Street was demolished, and construction began on a new sixteen-story building, which opened in 1915, giving the store 11 acres (45,000 m2) of retail space. Early on, Meier & Frank was one of the few stores to maintain a buying office in New York. Sales representatives there would joke that there were four major markets on the West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Meier & Frank. In 1920, a full square-block garage and stockroom facility, four stories high, opened on N.W. 14th and 15th between Everett and Flanders. The Retail Reserve Building, eight stories high, opened at N.W. Irving between 14th and 15th in 1923. A year earlier, Meier & Frank's radio station KFEC, with its antenna atop the 16-story building, began broadcasting from its studio on the 5th floor. The station’s slogan was “KFEC--The Meier & Frank Station”. Meanwhile, Clark Gable worked at Meier & Frank selling neckties.

The president of Meier & Frank, Julius L. Meier, was elected governor of Oregon as an independent, and served from 1931 to 1935.

Combining the 1909 and 1915 buildings with construction on the final quarter-block and topping the consolidated building off at 17 stories, Meier & Frank's now filled the entire block bounded by S.W. Alder, Morrison, 5th, and 6th. Locals jocularly referred to the store as "Murphy & Finnigan's". For a time, Meier & Frank reigned as the largest retail outlet west of the Mississippi and one of the largest stores in the nation in the early 1930s. When President Roosevelt closed banks country-wide, Meier & Frank took out a full-page newspaper ad with a single word: "Confidence". Hundreds of people brought their savings to the store for safekeeping. The store canceled interest charges on all customers' credit accounts.

Julius Meier died in 1937, his nephew, Aaron (Bud) Meier Frank (1891–1968) became president of the store, a position he would hold for nearly 40 years, becoming the most important businessman in Portland for decades.

World War II[edit]

During World War II, Meier & Frank supported the allied forces: Federal officials cited the store's efforts in support of the war 1941 to 1945 as the most outstanding of any department store in the United States. Meier & Frank devoted all of its newspaper advertising space to bond sales; for 1,207 continuous days the back page of the first section of The Oregonian ran ads—not to sell merchandise but to support the war effort. The store conducted the largest single sale of war bonds in the nation, a $32-million sale that lasted two weeks in the store's auditorium.

Postwar[edit]

After the war, the installation of the longest continuous up/down escalator system in the world was completed, serving all selling floors of the store and costing $1.5 million. Two years later the Portland Hotel was demolished and a two-level parking facility was built on a full block southwest of the store, between S.W. 6th, Broadway, Morrison, and Alder. In the late 1960s, Meier & Frank proposed an 11-story parking garage on the block, which was denied by the city after a series of heated public hearings. This proposal helped prompt the downtown business community and the city to undertake a comprehensive downtown planning program. The lot became Pioneer Courthouse Square in 1984.

Exterior of the Lloyd Center Meier & Frank store in 1988, before the company's longtime logo using cursive lettering was changed to block capitals

Meier & Frank’s first branch store, with 185,000 square feet (17,200 m2), opened in Salem, Oregon, under the direction and management of Aaron Frank’s son Gerry Frank (1923-) in 1955. It had store-side parking for 1,000 cars. Five years later Meier & Frank opened Oregon’s second largest department store (exceeded only by its own downtown store) in Northeast Portland in the new Lloyd Center, at the time the world’s largest shopping center. The crown prince of Japan (later Emperor Akihito) joined the dignitaries attending the opening festivities.

From 1964 to 1966, a bitter intra-family battle erupted as stockholders considered two potential buyout offers for the store—one, supported by Aaron Frank, to sell to Carter Hawley Hale Stores for cash, and the other, supported by Jack Meier (Julius Meier’s son) (1912–1988), to sell to May Department Stores for stock. Most stock was owned by members of the Meier, Frank, and Hirsch families. After a lengthy and acrimonious struggle, the store was eventually sold to May in 1966 and Jack Meier became the store’s president. Aaron Frank retired, and Gerry Frank became chief of staff to newly elected U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, eventually earning the nickname “Oregon’s Third Senator”.

From 1969 to 2004, Meier & Frank opened stores in Eugene (1969), Washington Square in Tigard (1972), Vancouver, Washington (1977), Clackamas Town Center in Portland (1980 and 2002), Medford (1986), and Tanasbourne in Hillsboro (2004). Measuring by store units, Meier & Frank was roughly four times smaller than its closest rival within the May Department Stores family, but its average sales per square foot was the third highest, an enviable $225 per square foot during the late 1990s.

Purchase and conversion[edit]

In 2001, May rebranded its Utah-based ZCMI stores (Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution) with the Meier & Frank name. A year later Meier & Frank’s operations merged with the Robinsons-May division in Los Angeles, California, while retaining its name. In 2005, May Department Stores was bought by Federated Department Stores, the parent company of Macy's (and which itself was renamed Macy's, Inc. in 2007), and Federated announced that the store (and many other venerable department store names owned by Federated) would be renamed “Macy’s”.[2] At the close of business on September 8, 2006, use of the name Meier & Frank was officially discontinued, all remaining stores becoming Macy's the following day.[3]

Restaurants[edit]

Meier & Frank also operated several restaurants in or near its stores, all of which have now been closed. The square footage that in-store restaurants required was more profitably used to sell or store merchandise. By the late 1990s, competing against the increasing number of dining options and against mall and food court marketing efforts did not make financial sense.

  • The Georgian Room, on the 10th floor - Downtown Portland (Closed in 2005 for building renovation)
  • The Aladdin Restaurant, on the 3rd floor - Lloyd Center (Closed in 1990 for Lloyd Center renovation. Old space is now mall food court)
  • The Homestead Restaurant, on the 2nd floor - Vancouver Mall (Closed in 2002 due to pending store expansion)
  • The Homestead Restaurant, on the 2nd floor - Washington Square (Closed in 1981 for store expansion)
  • The Oregon Room, on the main floor - Downtown Salem, Oregon (Closed in 1998 for store expansion)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Barbaro, Michael (August 26, 2006). "After Smooth Sales Talk, Stores Take Macy’s Name". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-08. 
  2. ^ a b "Meier & Frank to be renamed Macy's". Portland Business Journal. July 28, 2005. Retrieved 2010-09-08. 
  3. ^ a b Guest, Gretal (September 9, 2006). "Celebration marks Macy's growing mega-brand status". Detroit Free Press via The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-09-08. 
  4. ^ McCarty, Erin (October 26, 2007). "Customers filed into Meier & Frank to see renovations". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Fairmont Hotel". State of Oregon historic plaque. World's Fair Historical Society. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 

External links[edit]