S. Klein On The Square, or simply, S. Klein, was a popular priced department store chain based in New York City that is now defunct. The flagship stores (a main building and a women's fashion building) were located along Union Square in Manhattan; this location would combine with the 1920s idiomatic catch phrase "on the square" (meaning "honest and straight-up") to provide the subtitle. S. Klein positioned itself as a step above regional discount stores of its time (Two Guys, Great Eastern Mills), more fashion aware than E. J. Korvette, and a more affordable option compared to traditional department stores like Macy's, or Abraham & Straus. S. Klein stores were full-line department stores, including furniture departments, fur salons, and full service pet departments.
Russian-born Samuel Klein[disambiguation needed] (1886–1942) founded S. Klein in 1905, or around 1912, on the block of Union Square East, between 14th and 15th Streets (in the former Union Square Hotel).
S. Klein started to build new suburban stores in the 1960s but in an unusual way. Instead of being an anchor store in the regional malls being built at the time, S. Klein would often build as an outparcel near, but not connected to the mall itself. Most stores were located in New York and New Jersey in the greater New York City area. S. Klein operated stores as far south as Alexandria, Virginia and at Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, Maryland.
By the mid-1970s the parent company of S. Klein, Meshulam Riklis' Rapid-American Corp. (also owner of the McCrory Stores dime-store chain), seemed more interested in the real estate the company held than the retail operations (a fate Two Guys would fall to in 1982), and it started to close the stores in clusters. By 1978 the last of the chain's stores would close. The flagship store in Manthattan's Union Square is now the site of the Zeckendorf Towers apartment complex.
Traces of S. Klein today
While there is little trace of S. Klein today, a significant part of the signage was still in place at its former location in downtown Newark, New Jersey until its demolition. This location had been vacant since the store was closed in 1976, and the neon sign (in 2008 photo) that proclaims, "S Klein, On The Square" complete with their neon carpenter's square logo was still intact as of 2012. In late 2012 the Newark planning board approved a proposal by the Prudential Insurance Company to build a new 20 story office building on the site of the S. Klein building, and several other long abandoned buildings. The S. Klein building was demolished in late July 2013.
The last known existing signage with the company name (as of 2013) is in a tile inlay in the entrance flooring of a former store location at 68 Clinton Street, New York City. The entrance now leads to Pig and Khao, a Filipino restaurant.
In popular culture
Due in part to its reputation for bargains, S. Klein was known as the store to pick through racks and bins searching for the ultimate find. In the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy, Ethel Mertz often mentioned "pawing through racks" at either S. Klein, or the bargain basement at Gimbels. In the 1970s sitcom All In The Family, S. Klein was mentioned as Edith Bunker's favorite store. In the song "Marry The Man" from the musical Guys and Dolls, the lyrics mention three department stores: "At Wanamaker's and Saks and Klein's". On an episode of Mad Men Roger Sterling compliments Jane (before she was his wife) on top and she says she got it at Kleins on Union Square. He makes a comment wondering if his daughter shops there and Jane more or less says she doubts it (Insinuating she would shop there due to her father- Rogers- wealth).
- "Obituary of Samuel Klein, Brooklyn Eagle, 1942". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 1942-11-16. p. 9. Retrieved 2017-04-13.
- Harris, Gale; Shockley, Jay (June 30, 1998), East 17th Street/Irving Place Historic District: Designation Report (PDF), N. Y. C. Landmarks Preservation Commission
- Forgotten New York: S Klein, Union Square
- "Two Roads to the Philippines - Restaurant Review: Jeepney in the East Village, Pig and Khao". New York Times. 12 March 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2014.