Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lord and Taylor

Lord and Taylor's 3rd building, from 1872-1914, on 20th and Broadway.

Lord and Taylor's 4th and current building on 5th Avenue and 39th Street.
This past week I started working at Lord and Taylor ... they need holiday-season sales associates and I, for a change of pace, was hired on the spot. I guess to say that they "need" people is an understatement. I actually got training these past couple of days from a very outgoing sales manager, obviously the kind of personality-type the folks at Lord and Taylor are looking for ... they certainly emphasized that enough, and I hope I'm up to snuff. The key, I think, is to just come across as knowledgeable and approachable. Lord and Taylor has a long history, though, that they seem to be very proud of ... which is a stark contrast from most businesses that only want to concentrate on what's hip and contemporary.

Lord and Taylor was the first department store in the United States, founded in 1826 on Catherine Street and Broadway, and then moving to Grand Street in Broadway by 1861. In 1863, the sales associates were actually given guns to protect themselves and the store during the draft riots -- kind of different from today's standards.

In 1872, the store moved for a third time to a beautiful, Gothic-style, haunted-house-looking building on the corner of Broadway and 20th Street. Broadway in the 1890s was said to have a "champagne sparkle", and was the center of high-society shopping and nightlife. I've walked past this building so many times when I used to work down here. I always knew the Chelsea area maintained a lot of its old buildings, much more so than uptown, but unfortunately it wasn't until after I got laid-off that I knew the back stories to pretty much any of them.

Lord and Taylor, being on Broadway between Union and Madison Squares, was obviously a store for the rich, the "carriage trade", who didn't want to associate with the working class who rode the elevated train along Sixth Avenue and shopped at such bargain stores as Siegal-Cooper and the Hugh O'Neill building. This store on Broadway was state-of-the-art, as ten thousand people visited simply to ride the brand new elevator over the the first three days of business.

However, the city's center continued to migrate uptown, and Fifth Avenue gradually became what it now has been for decades, one of the world's best known shopping districts. In 1914, Lord and Taylor's fourth and current 11 -story flagship store opened up on the corner of 5th Avenue and 39th Street. And each morning, the sales associates gather on the second floor, play the national anthem (a tradition that started in the '70s in solidarity for the hostages in Iran) and have the rally, committing to sell, sell, sell!

As the store sets up its famous Holiday window displays, and people from all around the world come to shop with us, I plan to get in the spirit as best I can so I can make at least a little money this Christmas, and maybe they'll even keep me on. In the mean time, I'll try to wow 'em with my vast knowledge of the rich history of this store.

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