History of New York’s Bloomingdale’s Department Store

Bloomingdale's History

Photo: Coolcaesar at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bloomingdale’s is synonymous with fashion. People flock to their department stores every year to find the latest styles and. Some of the world’s most renowned designers had their first creations displayed at Bloomingdale’s locations. It’s a tradition that has been going on for more than two hundred years. The company was created by Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale. The two brothers opened a garment store for women in the Lower East Side of New York City in 1861. The first product that they carried was the hoop skirt, which was the latest fashion trend at the time. It was made popular by Eugenie de Montijo, who was married to the French Emperor Napoleon III. She created the skirt so that others would not know she was pregnant at the time.

The first Bloomingdale’s retail shop was a ladies notions store. The store moved to 3rd Avenue and 56th Street in Manhattan in 1872. This location was known as the Bloomingdale Brothers Great East Side Bazaar. Their revenue for the first day at this location was $3.68.

Joseph and Lyman gradually expanded their product offerings. They paid attention to what clothing companies in several international markets were selling. Corsets, skirts and men’s garments were some of the initial products that the store carried. The brothers opened a purchasing office in Paris, France and brought several of those items to the United States. Their first store began to carry more and more garments. By the mid-1870’s, Bloomingdale’s’ was turning into one of the nation’s first department stores.

Things went so well that the tiny store soon ran out of space. Bloomingdale’s moved to its 59th Street and Lexington Avenue location in New York City in 1886. The shop had large glass windows which were used to display their items, often in a theatrical manner.

Lyman began running print ads in the early 20th century to attract more business. It was hard to walk or drive anywhere in the city or even pick up a beach umbrella without seeing the “All Cars Transfer to Bloomingdale’s” advertising campaign. Buster Brown artist Robert Oucault was hired to create several paintings based on the tagline. The store would make up a whole city block by the late 1920’s. Renowned architects Van Vleck and Stannet recreated the establishment in the Art Deco style that was very popular at the time.

Bloomingdale’s quickly became a shopping destination for people around the country and across the world. Fashion shows and other events were held at the New York store starting in the 1940’s. Their first location in Queens hosted more than 25,000 guests when it opened in 1948. Bloomingdale’s became a great place to find unique fashions from Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabanna, DKNY, Perry Ellis and many other up and coming brands and designers. Model rooms showcased new designs that were sure to be top sellers in no time.

The store continued to grow in popularity in the following decades. Designer bags from Italy and other international items were added to their product lines in the 1960’s. Bloomingdale’s achieved celebrity status in the 1970’s as actors, royalty and other celebrities frequented the legendary department store. It was featured in movies and New Yorker cartoons.

Bloomingdale’s famous Big Brown Bag was introduced in 1973. It was originally created to hold blanket, pillow and linen purchases. The initial design was done in red, white and black as a reproduction of tarot cards from France. The bag became so popular that spinoff bags and purses for makeup and other items were soon developed. Many of the bags were designed by new and experienced artists, and several of them have been included in various art exhibits all around the world.

The company also expanded beyond New York City during the 1970’s. Bloomingdale’s stores opened in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston, to be followed by a flagship store in downtown Chicago and several stores in Florida in the 1980’s. Four new stores were added in California in the 1990’s. Another flagship store would be added in San Francisco in 2004 along with a second Bloomingdale’s location in Manhattan that year.

Additional Bloomingdale’s stores were constructed in Washington, D.C.; Santa Monica, California and San Jose, California in 2008. Their first international franchise was built in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2010. Bloomingdale’s locations in Palo Alto snd Glendale, California and Honolulu, Hawaii have opened in the last decade.

Economic and market downturns led to several changes within the organization in recent years. Bloomingdale’s closed stores in Dunwoody, Georgia; North Bethesda, Maryland and Oak Brook, Illinois in 2012. The company would also shutter some of their oldest store sites at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota and in South Miami, Florida in 2012 and 2020, respectively. Public feedback against the use of animal fur prompted the organization to discontinue selling fur in all Bloomington’s stores by the end of 2020.

Today, there are 54 Bloomingdale’s stores operating in the United States. The company became a Federated Department Stores division in 1930, when Lyman Bloomington’s son Samuel was the CEO. The Federated Department Stores holding company changed its name to Macys,Inc. in 2007.

The company still offers high-quality products and many exclusive items.. Its specialty lines can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Customers can visit their retail locations, shop online or allow a personal shopper to find products for them. Products change regularly to reflect current tastes and trends.

Of course one cannot write a story about the history of Bloomingdale’s without mentioning their legendary Christmas windows. Along with Macy’s and Sak’s Fifth Avenue Bloomingdales have celebrated the Christmas season every year by putting up beautiful displays in the sidewalk windows. For New Yorkers it’s a tradition every holiday season going back many years to visit Bloomingdales.

Bloomingdale's Christmas Window display

Photo: sabeen19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bloomingdale’s has always been associated with class and beauty. It has gained many faithful customers in different nations across the globe. Devoted shoppers often make a stop at a Bloomingdale’s location one of the focal points of their outings. Many exclusive collections have premiered at Bloomingdale’s stores and their events have been covered by various media outlets throughout the years. Some of their earlier collections even have their own space at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale didn’t invent the modern day department store. They found a niche that worked and capitalized on it. The brothers developed a business model that many others have copied, to varying degrees of success and failure. It’s a formula that has continued to thrive for decades. Bloomingdale’s stores will certainly bring in more customers from all corners of the globe every year.

Bloomingdale's

Photo: Ed Parsons, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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