B. Altman and Company
B. Altman and Company was a
New York City-based department storefounded in 1865 by Benjamin Altman. It officially closed on December 31, 1989. One of the first American department stores to open out-of-town branches, Altman's eventually opened locations in Pennsylvania(St. Davids, 1965, Willow Grove, 1983), New Jersey(Short Hills, 1958, (replacing the earlier nearby East Orangestore), Ridgewood/Paramus, 1967), and New Yorkstate (Manhasset, 1947, White Plains, 1930) as well as its block-long main flagship store at Fifth Avenue 1906-1912 and 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. A short-lived location in Cincinnatiopened during the L.J. Hooker ownership period, and two mall locations in Buffalo and Syracuse were physically completed but never occupied by Altman's during that same time. Benjamin Altmanfounded his first store on Third Avenue and 10th Street in 1865, which later relocated and expanded to 19th Street and Sixth Avenue. In 1906 the store relocated to the block-long structure on Fifth Avenue running from 34th to 35th Streets, which was later expanded to include the Madison Avenue blockfront. In the 1930s, Altman's made one of the early entries in the suburbs, with branches opening in East Orange (later relocated to Short Hills), White Plains and Manhasset. The foresight of the organization in geographical selection can be seen in that the Short Hills location is now The Mall at Short Hills, the White Plains location is now The Westchestershopping mall, and the Manhasset location is adjacent to the Americana Manhasset, which opened nine years after the Altman's store.
When Benjamin Altman died he left no
heirs, and besides his art collection going to the Metropolitan Museum, his stock in the stores was placed in a foundation, the Altman Foundation. In 1985, due to changing IRSrulings, the Foundation sold the stores to an investor group that included members of the Guccifamily and two principals from financial firm Deloitte & Touche.
In 1987 Australian real estate development company
L.J. Hookerand its CEO, George Herscu, purchased the controlling interest in the B. Altman stores (as well as Bonwit Teller, Sakowitzand a majority of Parisian) to utilize these chains as anchors in poorly located, yet extravagant, new shopping centers across the country. Knowing virtually nothing about how to operate these various retailing chains, and then placing them in locations with no regard to market recognition or demographics, the strategy failed miserably, and in August 1989 B. Altman filed for bankruptcy protection, with the last store closing in 1990.
Another less well-known but equally catastrophic venture included building two upstate New York stores that were part of a different expansion strategy that never materialized. The suburban Buffalo location at the huge
Walden Galleriacomplex was, in fact, fully completed and fixtured but never occupied by Altman's. It would later be occupied in 1991 by local department store, AM&A's, and eventually a Bon-Ton, who vacated in 2006. This former never-opened Altman's location will soon will be demolished for a new cinema complex. The Carousel CenterMall location in Syracuse was under construction at the time and redesigned to house a succession of several discount anchors, one on each of the two floors.
The store culturally was known for its WASP sensibilities, and many regarded it as similar to the renowned
Marshall Field & Companyin Chicago. Highlighting its sober reputation, the stores included a satellite location of Colonial Williamsburg's Craft Housethat sold classic colonial reproductions. Two lost treasures from the store are the famous Christmas windows, which rivaled Lord & Taylor's, a few blocks up Fifth Avenue, as well as the Charleston Garden Restaurant, which housed a full-sized facade of a Tara-like Charleston home. The St. David's location also had a Charleston Garden restaurant, as did the other branch stores.
In popular culture
*In Adriana Trigiani's best-selling 2003 novel "Lucia Lucia" the protagonist, Lucia Sartori, worked in the B. Altman's flagship store in NYC as a seamstress.
New York, New York
**361 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street, flagship store, 1906-1912 closed 12/1989, now houses the
City University of New York's Graduate Center; the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library; and Oxford University Press.
White Plains, New York
**Westchester Avenue at Bloomingdale Road, 1930, expanded 1949 and 1963, closed 1989 demolished 1994, now site of
Nordstromat The Westchestermall.
Manhasset, New York
**Northern Boulevard, Original freestanding store, 1951, later part of
Americana Manhassetshopping center, closed 1989 Altered/mostly demolished 1993, now Crate & Barreland other retail stores.
Short Hills, New Jersey
**Original freestanding store, opened 1958, later part of
The Mall at Short Hills, closed 1989 Gutted and rebuilt in 1994-95 for mall expansion, Neiman Marcusand Nordstromare built adjacent in former parking lot.
Paramus, New Jersey
Fashion Center Mall, 1967, closed 1989 Building converted into Bed Bath & Beyond and TJMaxx
St. Davids, Pennsylvania
**550 E. Lancaster Ave. (US 30 near I-476), St Davids, PA, 19087, Freestanding store, 1965, closed 1989 Building converted into
Genuardi'smarket, TJ Maxx, and other retailers
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Willow Grove Park Mall, 1983, closed 1986 Now Sears
Forest Fair Mall, 1988, closed 1990 now Kohl's
Built but never opened
Buffalo, New York
Walden GalleriaBuilding completed and fixtured, but never opened 1989, Eventually opened as A.M.& A's department store in 1991, then Bon-Ton, closed 2006, to be demolished for new Regal Cinemas Complex
Syracuse, New York
Carousel CenterBuilding under construction when bankruptcy filed, opened later as Chappell's and Hills department stores and later still Ames and Bon-Ton, Now Bon-Ton and Sports Authority in half of former Ames.
* [http://www.altmanfoundation.org/ Altman Foundation]
* [http://www.gc.cuny.edu/abouT_gc/campus/ba_department_store_1.htm B. Altman Building, home of CUNY Grad Center]
* [http://www.nyc-architecture.com/MID/MID161.htm Last store, from NYC architecture page]
* [http://www.nyu.edu/classes/finearts/nyc/ladies/altman.html 1877 location]
* [http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/nyhs/baltman.html New-York Historical Society]
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