Strawbridge's

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Strawbridge's
Industry Retail
Fate Most stores renamed Macy's
Successor(s) Macy's
Founded 1868 (as Strawbridge & Clothier)
Defunct 2006
Headquarters 8th and Market Streets,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Products Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares.
Parent Formerly May Department Stores
Website None
Building the 1931 limestone flagship building nearly bankrupted the company during the Depression

Strawbridge's, formerly Strawbridge & Clothier, was a department store in the northeastern United States, with stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In its day a gracious urban emporium, the downtown Philadelphia flagship store added branch stores starting in the 1930s, and together they enjoyed annual sales of over a billion dollars by their zenith in the 1980s.[1] By the 1990s Strawbridge's found itself part of May Department Stores until that company's August 30, 2005, acquisition by Macy's Inc. May had operated it under its Arlington County, Virginia-based Hecht's division. It was announced March 10, 2006, that the store would be closed on June 1, 2006, but it actually shut its doors on May 23, 2006.[2]

On February 1, 2006, the former May Company divisions were dissolved and operating control of the Strawbridge's stores was assumed by Macy's East. On September 9, 2006, the Strawbridge's and Hecht's nameplates were completely phased out in favor of Macy's.

From 1870 to 1930, the 5-story S&C stood at 8th and Market (1910s postcard)

History[edit]

Strawbridge & Clothier began as a dry goods store founded by Quakers Justus Clayton Strawbridge (1838–1911) and Isaac Hallowell Clothier (1837–1921)[3] in Philadelphia in 1868. Strawbridge & Clothier purchased the 3-story brick building on the northwest corner of Market and 8th Streets in Center City Philadelphia that had been Thomas Jefferson's office from 1790 to 1793 while he served as Secretary of State,[4] and opened their first store. They soon replaced the old building with one of 5-stories, and then expanded into neighboring buildings as well.[5]

In 1928, the company decided to replace all but one of their buildings with a new edifice, and began construction in phases on the 13-story building which stands on the corner of Market and North 8th Street today. Designed in the Beaux Arts-style by the Philadelphia architectural firm Simon & Simon, the cost of the limestone building was expected to be $6.5 million, an amount which caused some concern to the store's owners.[4] By the time the ribbon-cutting occurred, in 1931 in the depth of the Great Depression, the staggering $10 million cost of such grand construction nearly suffocated the cash-strapped company.[4]

The building subsequently became the eastern anchor in 1977 of The Gallery, an urban mall connecting Strawbridge & Clothier with Gimbels, which had relocated from across Market Street to join the mall. It was the vision of S&C Chairman Stockton Strawbridge that was instrumental in revitalizing the Market East retail district in the 1970s, a vision that is still apparent today despite the demise of both Gimbels and Strawbridge's. He once said that his goal was to transform fading east Market Street into "the Champs-Élysées of Philadelphia."[6]

Radio station[edit]

For thirteen years, from 1922 to 1935, the store operated WFI, an AM radio station.[7] In 1935, the station merged with WLIT, owned by the Lit Brothers store across the street, to form WFIL, an NBC Blue network affiliate.[8] WFIL remains on the air today on its original frequency, AM 560.

Expansion and acquisition[edit]

Suburban Square store

In May 1930, Strawbridge & Clothier helped remake the American retail scene by opening one of the first suburban branch department stores in the nation, located in the Suburban Square shopping center in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.[9] In 1931, they followed with their second suburban "satellite" store at Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, the building for which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.[10]

Some Strawbridge's stores had restaurants inside, like at Christiana Mall in Newark, Delaware. Strawbridge's was well known for their handled shopping bags which kept up with the fashion of each era. It was a paper bag, with navy blue handles and it read, Strawbridge's in blue twice and red once on one side of the bag, and vice versa on the other. Once May assumed the company, the Strawbridge & Clothier Seal of Confidence was no longer a prominent marketing image. Late 1970s and 1980s bags were a bright glossy yellow with that era's pseudo calligraphic trademark in a vertical orientation in black along the bag's edge. 1960's bags featured a "modern" script-like trademark with their famous "seal of confidence". They were also known for their friendly employees. In the center of the flagship store was a large bronze statue of a wild boar. The legend had it that good luck would follow those who rubbed the boar's nose. The boar consequently had a very shiny nose from all the rubbing.

By the 1970s, Strawbridge's had nearly a dozen branch stores in malls across eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. The branches proved to have been a wise step: the flagship store posted only a few years of actual profitability, all of them during the 1940s.[4] The company also revolutionized retailing with their introduction of revolving charge account cards. In 1969, Strawbridge set his sights on competing with the emerging Target grade retailers,[6] launching the Clover discount store chain; the first Clover store opened in 1971. Located in strip centers rather than malls for the most part, Clover grew to have 26 locations, more than the 21 full-service S&C stores. Most Clover stores closed in the winter of 1997.

After successfully fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by Ronald S. Baron in 1986, Strawbridge & Clothier survived as an independent, locally-owned department store into the 1990s.[11] In 1995, in an attempt to become the dominant retailer in the Philadelphia region, S&C partnered with Federated Department Stores, Pomeroys, and the Rubin Brothers real estate development company to acquire their rival Wanamaker's,[12] but were outbid in bankruptcy court by May Department Stores Company. Subsequently, the thirteen Strawbridge & Clothier department stores were themselves bought by May Department Stores Company in 1996, when the Strawbridge & Clothier directors (mostly members of the Strawbridge and Clothier families) elected to liquidate operations[13] over the vehement objections of patriarch Stockton Strawbridge. Strawbridge died not long after the sale. "He was the store, and the store was him," said his attorney Peter Hearn to the Philadelphia Daily News.[6] Store employees and the public-at-large felt a sense of loss as well: many employees rushed to pay off their credit card accounts in full before the sale was finalized, "hoping that the proceeds would go to the founding families rather than [the new buyers]."[1]

The main entrance to the building in 2013

At the time of the acquisition by May's, the Strawbridge's name was retained, and the Philadelphia area Hecht's stores – the former John Wanamaker locations – also adopted the name. However, the Strawbridge & Clothier head office was closed and its operations were consolidated with Hecht's in Arlington, Virginia.[1] After the sale the stores operated simply as "Strawbridge's", although exterior signage reading "Strawbridge & Clothier" remained in place at many locations until the stores became Macy's in 2006.[14]

Repurposing of flagship store[edit]

In July 2006, The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), owners of The Gallery at Market East, agreed to purchase the lower floors of the flagship Strawbridge's store. It is anticipated that PREIT will seek retail tenants for the areas of the building closest to street level but may convert some higher floors to office space. The uppermost floors had previously been sold and converted to offices; they are currently owned by American Financial Realty Trust of Jenkintown.[15]

On February 26, 2009, it was announced that the developers of Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia were looking into locating their new casino onto three floors of the former Strawbridge's flagship store currently owned by PREIT.[16]

In April 2012 it was reported by one of the sub-contractors that the building was undergoing additional renovation for both office and residential use.[17] In July 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News relocated to the third floor of the building from their former headquarters at 401 North Broad Street.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

The S&C "Seal of Confidence" (1911-2006), depicting William Penn and a Lenape tribesman shaking hands, their "never written, never broken" treaty; it stood for S&C's Quaker-based tradition of fairness and honesty, which included a money-back guarantee on all merchandise[5]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c "Philadelphia Keeps Strawbridge Name But Loses Retail Tradition." The New York Times, July 22, 1996
  2. ^ "Strawbridge's Closes Its Doors" WPVI-TV website
  3. ^ Strawbridge genealogy Clothier genealogy The Pennocks of Primitive Hall
  4. ^ a b c d Milford, Maureen. "Upper Floors of Philadelphia Store to Become Offices" New York Times (April 7, 2002)
  5. ^ a b Smith, Sandy. "Buildings Then and Now: 'Think Strawbridge & Clothier first'" Philadelphia Real Estate Blog (January 12, 2012)
  6. ^ a b c Gilpin, Kenneth N. "G. Stockton Strawbridge, 83, Dies; Retail Industry Executive." The New York Times, February 11, 1997.
  7. ^ Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers
  8. ^ Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers
  9. ^ Feinberg, Samuel. What makes shopping centers tick? (Fairchild Publications 1960)
  10. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  11. ^ "Strawbridge Receives Offer," The New York Times, April 22, 1986, p D-4
  12. ^ Shope, Dan, "Strawbridge, Others To Buy Wanamaker, Federated, Boscov's Are Part Of $640 Million Deal For 14 Sites," Allentown Morning Call, June 22, 1995
  13. ^ "May In Accord To Buy Strawbridge & Clothier," The New York Times, April 5, 1996
  14. ^ "Historic Strawbridge's site back in limbo," Philadelphia Business Journal, March 10, 2006
  15. ^ "PREIT's landmark Strawbridge's site has a tenant in Philadelphia," Philadelphia Business Journal, June 24, 2008
  16. ^ Lin, Jennifer (February 26, 2009). "Another casino shift possible in Phila.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2009-02-27. [dead link]
  17. ^ "The Renovation of Strawbridge & Clothier Building, Philadelphia, PA"

External links[edit]