Ohrbach's

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Ohrbach's
Former type Department store
Industry Retail
Fate Merged into Steinbach after Amcena acquired Steinbach
Founded 1923
Defunct 1987
Headquarters New York, New York
Products Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares.
Parent Amcena

Ohrbach's was a moderate-priced department store with a merchandising focus primarily on clothing and accessories. From its modest start in 1923 until the chain's demise in 1987, Ohrbach's expanded dramatically after World War II, and opened numerous branch locations in the metro areas of New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. Its original flagship store was located on Union Square in New York City, and they maintained home and administrative offices in Newark as well as in Los Angeles. The retailer would eventually close the Newark offices in the 1970s. Paul László designed the Union Square store as well as many of their other stores.

History[edit]

Ohrbach’s first store opened on October 4, 1923 in the fire-damaged building where Adolph Zukor operated the world’s first nickelodeon.[1] Founder Nathan M. Ohrbach launched his store with partner Max Wiesen, a dress manufacturer. After a time there was a falling-out between the partners. Weisen refused to sell out so Ohrbach leased quarters nearby to open a second store. This move forced Wiesen to sell out.[2]

Sale policies[edit]

When Ohrbach opened his store, he believed in cutting service to the bare essentials and sharing the savings with his customers. He also priced his goods in even numbers, while most of his competitors priced their goods in odd prices. Wiesen brought women’s ready-to-wear in the form of job lots, seconds, manufacturer’s overstocks, and irregulars. Ohrbach sold these in large volume and at low prices. After buying out Weisen in 1928, he added men’s and children’s furnishings and accessories. He started to “trade up” his women’s wear and offer higher style garments. Other policies formalized at this time were no price advertising, minimum sales force, no alterations, no deliveries, cash and carry, and no special sales periods.[3]

Expansion to California[edit]

The growth of the fashion industry in California encouraged the company’s expansion to the state. The firm employed the services of a buying office in Los Angeles as early as 1939 and by 1945 opened its own. In 1948, it leased three floors and the mezzanine in a wing of the Welton Becket–William Wurdeman designed Prudential Insurance Company building on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. The success of the Miracle Mile store led the firm in 1953 to open another branch in Downtown Los Angeles when it acquired the twelve-story Milliron's building at 5th and Broadway. The success at this branch was short lived, however; it first closed five floors as an economic move, but finally, in 1959, closed the branch because of poor results. In the 1960s, additional branches were opened in La Mirada and Panorama City.[4] Ohrbach's was a major anchor for the Los Cerritos Center in Cerritos, California in the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, they opened another store in the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California. The architecture of the Cerritos and Glendale store had an unusual tile front which helped customers know which store was Ohrbach's in these new large malls with several major department stores. In 1965, the Miracle Mile store was relocated in the former Seibu Department Store at Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue. This is the current location of the Petersen Automotive Museum.[5] Ohrbach's supplied clothing for the television soap operas: All My Children, Dark Shadows, The Doctors, the short lived weekly drama Coronet Blue, the comedy Mister Ed, and others.

Later history[edit]

In 1954, Ohrbach's moved from its Union Square location to West 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth (now Avenue of the Americas) Avenues across from the Empire State Building. The eleven-story building was formerly occupied by McCreery's Department Stores. In 1962, the Netherlands based Brenninkmeyer Company started buying into the firm until Nathan Ohrbach's retirement in 1965 when it had complete control.[6] In 1967, they opened their first suburban New Jersey store at The Bergen Mall.[7]

Ohrbach's was one of five anchor stores located in downtown Newark, New Jersey during the last half of the 20th century. Following race rioting in July 1967, business started to fall off at downtown stores, and conditions continued to worsen during the early 1970s. In 1973, Ohrbach's announced that it would close its store in Newark following the Christmas shopping season of that year. The store closed in January 1974 following a liquidation sale, and the remaining corporate offices located on the 5th and 6th floors of the Newark building relocated to space at the 34th Street store. The company's credit operations, also headquartered in the Newark building were moved to space in the firm's Bergen Mall location. At the time of Ohrbach's departure the other department stores operating in Newark stated they were still committed to downtown, but they would start to close in 1976, and by 1992, the last remaining hold out, Macy's, shuttered its downtown location.

In June 1986, Amcena (renamed American Retail Group in 1994) acquired Howland-Steinbach from Supermarkets General Corp and announced the shuttering of all six California locations as well as Ohrbach's flagship store on 34th Street. The remaining five stores, plus one unit under construction in the Smith Haven Mall reopened under the Steinbach banner on February 1, 1987.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ferry, John William. A History of the Department Store. Pages 80-81. New York: The MacMillian Company, 1960 ASIN B000E1B216
  2. ^ Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Page 312. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1974 ISBN 0-06-012739-2
  3. ^ Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Pages 312-314. New York: Harper & Row, 1974 ISBN 0-06-012739-2
  4. ^ Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Page 320. New York: Harper & Row, 1974 ISBN 0-06-012739-2
  5. ^ Roderick, Kevin, and Lynxwiler, J. Eric. Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles, Pages 140,143. Santa Monica, CA: Angel City Press, 2005 ISBN 1-883318-55-6
  6. ^ Hendrickson, Robert. The Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History of American’s Great Department Stores. Page 445. New York, NY: Stein and Day, 1979, ISBN 0-8128-2516-0
  7. ^ "Ohrbach's Plans First New Jersey Unit in Bergen Mall". New York Times. May 24, 1966. Retrieved 2010-11-27. Ohbach's announced yesterday that it would open its first New Jersey suburban store in the Bergen Mall Shopping Center in the fall of 1967. The two-story and basement store will be about 180,000 square feet, about the same size as the Ohrbach's store in Westbury, L.I.