An Insider's Guide to the Iconic Department Stores of New York City
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When someone says New York City, almost immediately does shopping come to mind. And not without good reason, the fashion capital is home to some of the largest department stores in the world. Department stores are retail establishments that sell a variety of goods, and consumers can do most of their shopping in one place. They sell items such as clothing, household goods, toys and children products, shoes, home appliances, books, jewellery, electronics, and so much more.
Each of these department stores in New York City has a history and a unique shopping experience. Great aesthetics, the ability to change with the times and innovation is what sets some of the department stores we will look at apart from others. Customer care and personalised styling, among many other services, are offered at many of the upscale department stores. Here is a summary of New York’s most famous department stores to give an impression of these shopper’s paradises.
Both the main Bergdorf Goodman, and the men's store across Fifth Avenue offer shoppers top quality fashion, housewares and accessories. This New York City department store is well-known for selling classic high-end fashions. Bergdorf Goodman has expanded their offerings to include items for a younger, affluent audience in the department 5F.
The company originated in 1899 when Herman Bergdorf, an immigrant from France, opened a tailor shop just above Union Square in downtown Manhattan. Edwin Goodman, a young 23-year old merchant, based in Lockport, New York, moved to New York City to work as an apprentice for Bergdorf. Within two years, Goodman had raised enough money to purchase an interest in the business, which was renamed Bergdorf Goodman in 1901. In 1906, Bergdorf Goodman moved to a new location on 32nd Street, just west of Fifth Avenue and the famous
Ladies' Mile. While Bergdorf preferred the less expensive side street location, Goodman prevailed with the new location and bought out Bergdorf's interest in the company. Bergdorf retired in Paris.
Goodman constructed a five-story building at 616 Fifth Avenue, on the site of what is today Rockefeller Center. In 1914, Goodman became the first couturier to introduce ready-to-wear, making Bergdorf Goodman a destination for American and French fashion. The store moved to its present location at 754 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
Bergdorf Goodman is known by all New Yorkers as the most elegant and classy department store of New York. The exterior of the building oozes chic. The shoppers of Bergdorf Goodman are mostly wealthy, middle aged to older women and men who love classic fashions and designers like Chanel and Christian Dior SA. The store also sells chic and classic brands of quality home wear. One of the first scenes in the movie Sex and the City 2 was filmed at Bergdorf Goodman. It has been named in several movies like How to Marry a Millionaire and That Touch of Mink.
Bergdorf Goodman recently started to target the younger wealthy crowd with the department 5F. 5F features designers like Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenburg and Helmut Lang. This contemporary department targets the same shoppers as Barney’s. Bergdorf Goodman is the epitome of high end shopping. Its restaurant BG is worth a visit. The restaurant is decorated in a very elegant manner and the menu is very chic. BG’s serves a great afternoon tea from 3pm to 5pm; it is definitely worth a try.
Bloomingdale’s is one of New York City's shopping institutions. Bloomingdale's has been known to overwhelm even the most seasoned shopper. The fantastic sales and a diverse assortment of merchandise make Bloomingdale’s a true shopping paradise. Bloomingdale's is an upscale chain of department stores owned by American multinational corporation Macy's, Inc. This higher end department store competes with Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom.
Bloomingdale's started in 1861 when brothers Joseph and Lyman G. Bloomingdale started selling hoop-skirts in their Ladies Notions' Shop on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In 1872, the Bloomingdale brothers opened their first store at 938 Third Avenue, New York City.
The brothers closed their East Side Bazaar in 1872 in a small row house on Third Avenue and 56th Street, selling a variety of garments. At the time the East Side was a working-class neighbourhood with shantytowns, garbage dumps, and stockyards. Most of their customers and competitors were in the Upper West Side, and at that time most 'respectable stores' only specialised in one trade.
Within a few years after opening the store, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened, the new St. Patrick's Cathedral was dedicated near the store after moving from its downtown location, Central Park was completed, and the IRT Lexington Avenue Line began construction. These additions brought wealthy customers to the East Side, who built brownstones that surrounded the new park.
The store moved in 1886 to its current location on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. It was designed with large plate glass display windows and large merchandising areas. Instead of the common practice of cluttering the display windows with an assortment of the goods they sold, each window featured a couple of products as props on a theatrical mise-en-scene.
In 1961, the company started using designer shopping bags to promote its
Esprit de France exhibit. The design, by artist Jonah Kinigstein, was based on French tarot cards in dramatic shades of red, black, and white. In 1973, the iconic
Brown Bag appeared. These were designed by Massimo Vignelli, who also designed the current store typeface, and they were prominently labeled in three sizes:
Big. Fashion designer Michaele Vollbracht designed one of the classic shopping bags in red, black, and white of a formally dressed man on one side and a woman on the other.
During Queen Elizabeth II's visit to New York City in 1976, traffic was reversed on Lexington Avenue so the Queen could exit her car on its right side and enter the famous Manhattan flagship through the main entrance.
Bloomingdale’s shoppers are mostly upper class men and women of all ages. But Bloomingdale's sales attract shoppers on a budget with great bargains. Customer service at Bloomingdale’s is excellent with an array of services. Shoppers are entitled to a free gift from the Visitor's Center with 50 dollars in purchases. There is a baggage check and coat check if you'll be shopping for a while, and you will be. You can also ask the cashier if you'd like to have your purchases shipped home. Bloomingdale’s has many restaurants and even a Magnolia Bakery in-store. A visit to Bloomingdale’s is essential when in New York.
Macy's was founded by Rowland Hussey Macy, who between 1843 and 1855 opened four retail dry goods stores, including the original Macy's store in downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts, established in 1851 to serve the mill industry employees of the area. They all failed, but he learned from his mistakes. Macy moved to New York City in 1858 and established a new store named
R. H. Macy & Co. on Sixth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, which was far north of where other dry goods stores were at the time. On the company's first day of business on October 28, 1858 sales totaled 11.08 dollars, equal to 293.47 dollars today. From the very beginning, Macy's logo has included a star in one form or another, which comes from a tattoo that Macy got as a teenager when he worked on a Nantucket whaling ship, the Emily Morgan.
As the business grew, Macy's expanded into neighbouring buildings, opening more departments. The department store used marketing tools such as a store Santa Claus, themed exhibits, and illuminated window displays to draw in customers. It also offered a money back guarantee, although it only accepted cash into the 1950s. The store also produced its own made-to-measure clothing for both men and women, assembled in an on-site factory. The store later moved to 18th Street and Broadway, on the
Ladies' Mile, the elite shopping district of the time, where it remained for nearly forty years.
Macy’s is by far the most famous department store in New York City. Macy's has ten floors featuring a bit of everything from clothing to kitchen ware. Macy’s still has the original escalators connecting some of the top floors. Macy's is a mid-range to upscale chain of department stores owned by an American multinational corporation. Macy’s shoppers are diverse in age and economic status.
Macy's is known for its niche in popular culture and the diversity of its merchandise. It competes with Belk, Bon-Ton, and Dillard's; the more upscale facilities compete with Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue. The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has been held since 1924, and Macy’s has sponsored the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks display since 1976. Macy's flagship was, and is still being advertised as, the largest in the world, and draws shoppers from well beyond the New York City Metropolitan.
Saks Fifth Avenue is an upscale department store chain owned by American multinational corporation Saks, Inc., which operates the flagship store and corporate headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It competes with high-end specialty stores in the Upper East Side of Manhattan like Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale's; it also competes with luxury retailer Neiman Marcus.
Saks Fifth Avenue was the creation of Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel, who operated stores on New York's 34th Street at Herald Square in the early 1900s. On September 15, 1924, Saks Fifth Avenue became the first large retailer located in a primarily residential district. Saks strived to deliver the finest quality men's and women's fashions and they placed a great emphasis on exceptional customer service.
Saks Fifth Avenue has a rich history as a fashion innovator. The department store sold ski equipment in the 1930’s. Saks Fifth Avenue was the first department store to launch Estee Lauder’s cosmetic line in the 1940’s. Saks decorated the 1969 White House Christmas tree.
Shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue is a great experience. Designers such as Donna Karan, Alexander McQueen, Salvatore Ferragamo are sold at Saks. This high end department store is comparable to shopping at Bloomingdale’s in terms of target group, service and assortment of products. Saks Fifth Avenue has maybe the most exquisite shoe department in New York City. Brands like Christian Louboutin, Gucci and Fendi are found at this shoe lover’s heaven.
Also while visiting this high end department store make sure to stop by L’Avenue, it brings the elegant Parisian dining experience to Saks and is open for dining indoors and on the terrace. So now you have been introduced to the luxurious world of New York’s department stores. Each store is unique in its own; each one has an original concept and many reasons to be visited. So now pack your bags, head to NYC and be prepared to shop until you drop!
Barney’s New York is an American chain of luxury department stores headquartered in New York City. The company began in 1923, when Barney Pressman opened his first store in Manhattan with $500 raised by pawning his wife's engagement ring in order to lease a 500-square-foot space at Seventh Avenue and West 17th Street in Manhattan with 20 foot of frontage. Barney's Clothes were stocked with 40 brand name suits and a big sign with a slogan,
No Bunk, No Junk, No Imitations. Barney's sold clothing at discounted prices by purchasing showroom samples, retail overstocks, and manufacturers' closeouts at auctions and bankruptcy sales.
In a 1973 interview to Business Week, Fred Pressman became:
convinced that the discount route definitely was not for us. My father and I have always hated cheap goods.... I didn't want to sell low-end merchandise. Now, many of those who chose to are verging on bankruptcy. Pressman is quoted saying, “The best value you can offer a customer is personal attention to every detail, and they will return again and again. Ultimately, the customer cares the most about how he or she is treated." Pressman died in July 1996.
Barney’s is the department store for shoppers who are interested in cutting edge fashion, and are able to afford the price tags at Barney's New York. Barney’s offers the trendiest merchandise of New York City's major department stores. Designers such as Burberry, Moncler, Alexander Mcqueen, Givenchy, Fendi are sold at this department store. Barney's semi-annual sales are famous and can put their fashions within reach for those fashionistas with smaller budgets. Typical shoppers at Barney’s are trendy, rich fashionistas from all over the world. The shoppers vary in age from teens to 50-somethings. The men that shop at Barney’s are well-dressed, trendy and fashionable. The sleek and stylish look of the department store matches the image of the shoppers. The salespeople are extremely helpful and look fabulous.
Barneys filed for bankruptcy for the second time in 2020 and liquidated its remaining merchandise through the holidays before closing its Madison Avenue flagship and other stores with its iconic Fred restaurant also shutting down. In 2021 under the management of the new owners of Barneys, AGP Group, a whole floor was built for the flagship in Saks Fifth Avenue, New York, titled Barneys at Saks. The collaboration is aimed at continuing Barneys New York tradition of unearthing and promoting emerging designers.
Nordstrom, initially a shoe store, was founded by John W. Nordstrom and Carl F. Wallin in Seattle in 1901. John Nordstrom handed down the shoe store to his three sons, and over time it grew from a local Seattle business to the largest independent shoe store chain in the US. The second generation of Nordstroms focused on expanding into women's clothing throughout the 1960s, starting with the acquisition of Seattle-based Best's Apparel in 1963.
In 1971, the third generation of Nordstroms took the company public before opening the clearance outlet Nordstrom Rack in 1973. That same year, the company became the largest-volume fashion specialty store on the West Coast. Sales surpassed $100 million. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, expansion of the now-department store continued nationwide. In 1995, the third generation of Nordstroms stepped down, passing the store to their sons. The Expansion of the chain continued throughout the next several decades. Nordstrom and Nordstrom rack currently have 332 stores in the United States and 13 in Canada. Part of the large-scale expansion plan in New York City includes two Nordstrom Rack stores, one Nordstrom Flagship store and a Nodrstrom Men’s store.
The Nordstrom Men’s Store in NYC is the first full-line Nordstrom shop that opened in 2018.It carries many well-known designers including Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, Comme des Garcons and Calvin Klein. In addition to a vast selection of clothing and accessories, the store offers all of the services Nordstrom is known for, including onsite alterations and tailoring, personal stylists, same-day delivery and express returns, plus the Clubhouse bar, ice cream from Milk Bar, and free WiFi.
The Nordstorm Women’s flagship store opened in 2019 and is just south of Central Park and across the street from our men's store. Customers get to explore seven floors of clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as beauty, home goods and restaurants, cafés and bars. Fronted by a unique glass façade, the 320,000-square-foot space was designed to reflect the spirit of the city and the people who love it. The NYC Flagship features styles from Gucci, Nike, Saint Laurent, Fendi, Madewell, Topshop, Zella, BP and more and prioritises top customer service.
Neiman Marcus, a prestigious department-store chain, is a good alternative to Macy’s and Nordstrom that carries a wide range of clothes and other high-quality products like jewellery and handbags. It was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1907, and from the beginning its owners featured unusual merchandise. Opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1907 by Herbert Marcus, Sr., his sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and her husband A.L. Neiman, the first Neiman Marcus store was designed to make the community of Dallas more fashionable. For the next six decades, the Marcus family led the management of Neiman Marcus, maintaining Herbert Marcus, Sr. 's principles: “It’s never a good sale for Neiman Marcus, unless it’s a good buy for the customer.” and “We want to sell satisfaction, not just merchandise.” Eventually, all of Herbert Marcus, Sr.’s sons joined the company. Stanley and Edward in 1926, Herbert, Jr., in 1932, and Lawrence in 1944. During World War II, Stanley Marcus served as the chief of the clothing section for the War Production Board, while his brothers joined the armed services.
In 1951 Neiman Marcus opened its first branch store; by the early 21st century it had more than 30 stores in the United States. The company was acquired by Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc., in 1969, and Harcourt General gained controlling interest of Neiman Marcus Group, which included Neiman Marcus and the retailer Bergdorf Goodman, in 1987. The company expanded Neiman Marcus’s mail-order business in 1988 by acquiring The Horchow Collection, a luxury catalogue company. From 1999 to 2005 Neiman Marcus Group was a publicly held company.
Neiman Marcus shut its famous Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s largest multi-purpose private department since Rockefeller Center in 2020. A heavy debt load combined with COVID-19 closures led to a bankruptcy filing. Neiman Marcus had no other choice but to shutter its one-year old Hudson Yards store, along with three other locations in Florida and Washington state.
The luxury department has two stores in New York City currently. One in Roosevelt, NY and the other one in Westchester. The online and offline stores cater to the opulently wealthy, supplying unique and extravagant gift items. The store also offers moderate-income customers a more standard selection of fashions and department-store items. Special promotions and services, many of which were developed by Stanley Marcus, made Neiman Marcus a retailing legend.
They offer products in the clothing, shoes, accessories, home, beauty in men, women and children categories for brands such as Celine, Michael Kors, Aquazzura, Alo Yoga, Coperni, Dolce & Gabbana , DVF and plenty more. They also have contemporary restaurants in each of their stores, Mariposa at Westchester and NM Cafe in White Plains providing customers a fine dining experience.
Cover Image: Bergdorf Goodman