Friday, 26 December 2008


In the 1870's, Sixth Avenue - later renamed Avenue of the Americas - began developing as a department store area with the B.Altman and Hugh O'Neill stores on the west side, at 19th and 21st Streets. These huge stores, spoon served by the new Sixth Avenue Elevated, attracted a broader crowd than the more elite shops running up Broadway from Union Square, two blocks east. The 1890's brought more construction of giant buildings on Sixth, of which the most ambitious was the Siegel-Cooper.

Henry Siegel and Frank Cooper had established a successful departmental store in Chicago. To penetrate the New York City market, they acquired a full blockfront plot distinguished by its great depth, running 460 feet east toward Fifth Avenue.

Their architects, DeLemos & Cordes, designed what was claimed to be the largest store in the world - 750,000 square feet spread over a florid six-storey Renaissance-style structure with a tall central tower and grand entrance.
"The Big Store" it was called, and The New York Times wrote that it carried "all that is between a tenpenny nail and a roast rib of beef to a diamond bracelet and a velvet cape." It opened in opened in September 1896 in a near riot as a crowd of 150,000 tried to squeeze into a store that could accommodate only 35,000. According to the New York Tribune, even Frank Cooper could not get in.
The attractions included not only goods in elaborate display - the bicycle department had its own track - but also ancillary services: a bank, a post office, a hospitable, a nursery, an aviary, a florist, a dentist, a pharmacy, a ticket office and a servants' employment agency. The store did well even as change crept past it. In 1902 it served on average 180,000 people each day and used 40 million square feet of wrapping paper each year.

This glorious retail temple was the center of NYC's shopping; "meet me at the fountain" was a catch phrase referring to the store's centerpiece, which featured Daniel Chester French's statue of 'The Republic.'

The store closed in 1914 and the building is now Bed Bath & Beyond, a superstore featured on Sex and the City; Filene's Basement; T J Max.

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