Our history article of New York’s Lord & Taylor Department Store looks back at a New York Department store that competed for many years against other New York Department stores such as Macy’s and Gimbels. The history of Lord & Taylor began in 1824 with a dry goods store. Mr. Samuel Lord opened the dry goods store on Catherine Street, which would end up being Lord and Taylor’s first home two years later. The store sold cashmere shawls, hosiery, and misses’ clothes. In 1834, Mr. George Washington Taylor joined Mr. Lord. They were making Lord and Taylor complete. In 1838, the store occupied 61-63 Catherine Street. The year 1845 brought a change in partnership. George Taylor left Lord, and Taylor and his brother-in-law, James S. Taylor, replaced him. A new building was constructed in 1853 at Grand and Christie streets, and in 1854 the company moved into the new location.
Lord & Taylor began to grow, with a second location opening at Grand and Broadway streets. The new building was said to be “A five-story marble emporium.” Samuel retired in 1862, leaving Samuel Lord Jr. and George Washington Taylor Lord to lead the company. In 1870 a gentleman by the name of James H. Giles designed a new cast-iron building. The new location, at Broadway and Twentieth Street, boasted a steam-powered passenger elevator. After facing some economic issues in 1873, the store began to grow again in 1894, and they began to open other Lord & Taylor locations. Mr. Lord’s estate sold the site on Grand Street in 1901. In 1903 and again in 1906, new stores would open.
In the 20th Century, a building designed by Starrett & van Vleck opened between Thirty Eighth and Thirty Ninth Street. This building was a Lord & Taylor store and their headquarters which opened their doors on February 24, 1914. Lord & Taylor sold the Broadway store in March of that same year because the new building ended up costing more than anticipated. In October of 2007, it was named a New York City landmark. Lord & Taylor is the oldest department store in the United States.
Lord & Taylor was the first company to hire a woman to hold the position of company President. Her name was Dorthy Shaver. She took the reins of the company in 1945. The first brand store was designed by Raymond Loewy Associates and was opened in Manhasset, New York. This particular store housed 66 shops. While Shaver was Lord & Taylor’s president, she introduced many unique services, including personal shoppers. These personal shoppers were very attentive to the consumer’s needs. They would help them pick out dresses and other apparel items, help them find the perfect pair of shoes, and much more. She also oversaw the store’s construction in Stamford, Connecticut. Ms. Shaver passed away in 1959. After Dorothy Shaver, there were three other women and one male president of Lord & Taylor.
Joseph E. Brooks, the CEO of Lord & Taylor in the 1970s, expanded the company into Illinois, Michigan, and Texas. South Florida watched 11 stores open in succession in the 1980s. Over the years, Lord & Taylor was purchased by many other companies; Associated Dry Goods (1916-1986), The May Department Store Company (1986-2005), NRDC Equity Partners (2006-2008), Hudson’s Bay Company (2008-2019), and Le Tote (2019-2020). These companies did all that they could to help the Lord & Taylor Department store succeed, grow, and be one of the top clothing department stores in the United States. Eventually, they did have to file bankruptcy and in 2021 finally succeeded in closing all of the Lord & Taylor branches.
These locations had no choice but to close mainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some areas were in trouble and beginning to go downhill before then, and the pandemic just pushed them into the inevitable. In mid-May of 2020, Le Tote tried to reopen a few of their stores; Boca Raton, FL, and Salem, New Hampshire. In June of 2020, they reopened Buffalo and Carousel, New York locations. Lord & Taylor also reopened stores in Northbrook & Woodfield, Illinois, and their store in Stamford. On June 19, 2020, Lord & Taylor reopened Garden City, Manhasset, and Scarsdale, New York. They also reopened White Flint, Maryland, and Westfield, New Jersey stores. By early July of 2020, some of the other Lord and Taylor stores had been reopened, but it was in preparation to downsize inventory so they could move to on-line only shopping.
Just one month later, on August 3, 2020, they had made the final decision to shut down all Lord & Taylor stores for good. Saadia Group, LLC purchased Lord & Taylor in October of 2020 for $12 million and planned to only move to online business. As of today, March 2, 2021, all physical Lord & Taylor locations are permanently closed. Their website and all social media sites are down while they transform over. If you search the internet, you can purchase Lord and Taylor clothing on many sites; eBay, Walmart, thredup.com, and more. But keep an eye out, and eventually, Lord & Taylor will be back online.
In Lord & Taylor one hundred and ninety years in business, they went through many trials; World wars, economic depressions, social upheaval, and pandemics. They also went through a few store locations throughout New York before settling on the L-Shaped lot, located at 424-434 Fifth Avenue. This building was the largest, most exotically decorated brand of Lord & Taylor. It was eleven stories of pure gorgeousness, and it was accommodating all consumers and employees. The total square feet of this unique store was over 600,000 square feet. The Lord & Taylor store had two basement levels and ten levels that were above ground. The large department store had 20 customer elevators, seven staircases, and a conveyor system.
There are more amenities that Lord & Taylor provided to its consumers and employees. They made sure that everyone felt welcome and had access to the things that they needed and wanted. This building was constructed from 1913-1914. During the building’s operation as Lord & Taylor’s flagship store, the building was renovated several times, and by the late 20th century, the store had expanded into an adjacent building.
Lord & Taylor Department Stores sold just about anything you could be looking to purchase—women’s, men’s, and children’s apparel and shoes. There were household items and furniture, make-up, handbags, rugs, lighting, and a vast array of other things. A packaging department occupied the eighth floor. Located on the seventh floor was a concert hall music department, while the fifth floor was home to telephones, restrooms, and travel counters. Lord and Taylor had a whole floor dedicated to employees only, with a gym, medical services, and a solarium, on the 11th floor. The tenth floor was dedicated to food. A food court could hold 500 people: the oval Wedgewood room, the Mandarin room (Chinese-inspired decoration), and the Italian-themed Loggia.
Many women counted on Lord & Taylor for one hundred and ninety four years to dress them their best for any occasion that they were attending. Weddings, lunches, parties, and work. Men also relied on Lord and Taylor to dress them their best for the same special occasions. Lord and Taylor succeeded in doing so with outstanding customer service. These personal shoppers would suggest something more suitable or color friendly for your skin tone and find shoes that complimented the outfit. They carried purses and handbags for every occasion and lifestyle, and they kept your children as well dressed as the parents. It is unfortunate to see such an icon in the United States go out of business after almost 200 years. They are not the only iconic store that has had to close down over the last ten years. Things in the world have changed so drastically and are only going to continue to change. For better or worse, we have to wait and see.
When the whole Covid-10 pandemic started, things went downhill for so many companies that have been American icons. Stores looted and burned down for no reason other than the fact that people could get away with it during an American upheaval. I have never personally shopped at Lord and Taylor, but I have seen thousands of outstanding reviews, and I know that they are millions of people that can not wait for the online store to open. The new Lord & Taylor shopping experience will be completely different from what everyone is used to, but I think it will do well over time. WeWork purchased the building to use as office space in 2019. In 2020 the famous 11 story building became the property of Amazon, and in 2023 it plans to turn it into offices, while other old department stores in the area are going to be left empty. Just a reminder of what used to be in the great state of New York.