I went to Bloomingdale's the other day, and it seemed like it was my first time in years. I had never even noticed all the small details from this amazing building that has been standing for nearly 150 years. Most of the elevators are still the original deco pieces, as is the main entrance sign. I guess I never knew much other than my grandma loved being taken there, and everyone knows the iconic brown bags. It made me very eager to learn more, so here's just a bit about this amazing store....
Bloomingdale's, a chain of upscale American department stores owned by Macy's, Inc., has 36 stores nationwide, with annual sales of $1.9 billion dollars. Bloomingdale's started in 1861 when brothers Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale started selling hoop-skirts in their Ladies Notions' Shop on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In 1872, Bloomingdale's expanded and opened their East Side Bazaar, a harbinger of the modern "department store."
In 1886, it moved to 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, still their flagship store, anticipating and capitalizing on the northern movement of New York's upper and middle classes. By 1929, Bloomingdale's covered an entire city block. Two years later, the glamorous Art Deco edifice that still graces Lexington Avenue was completed.
In 1949, Bloomingdale's began its real expansion, opening its first satellite store in Fresh Meadows, Queens and by 1959, Bloomingdale's had created a complete circle of stores around the flagship, in New Jersey, Westchester County and Long Island. This dramatic growth continued in the 70's and 80's with the opening of stores in the Northeast, Florida, and Chicago. Bloomingdale's was on its way to becoming a true national entity. That vision culminated in November 1996 with the addition of its first four stores in California, the most ambitious expansion in the company's history.
From the beginning, the Bloomingdale's brothers catered to America's love of international goods, and by the 1880's, their European selection was dazzling. A buying office in Paris in 1886 was the beginning of a network that now spans the globe. The 1960's brought promotions resulting from Bloomingdale's fascination with the foreign market: the first was a small affair called "Casa Bella" featuring merchandise for the home from Italy. Over the next thirty years, the promotions took on a grand scale - including unique merchandise and cultural exhibits that would touch every department in Bloomingdale's. Major transformation of the Bloomingdale's image came in the 1960's and 70's. The promotions were so exciting that the term "Retailing as Theater" was coined to describe Bloomingdale's "happenings." It was the era of pet rocks and glacial ice cubes, of visits by movie stars and royalty, from Elizabeth Taylor to Queen Elizabeth II.
The new direction in merchandising was both to seek and to create. Buyers covered the globe to find exclusive, one-of-a-kind items. When they couldn't find what they wanted, they had it made. In fashion, Bloomingdale's launched new designers and created boutiques for already-famous names. Among the discoveries: Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Norma Kamali - and for the first time in America: Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo and Fendi ready-to-wear. Designers opening their first in-store boutiques at Bloomingdale's include Yves St. Laurent, Calvin Klein, Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler.
In 1961, Bloomingdale's made retail history in yet another area by introducing the first designer shopping bag. Artist Joseph Kinigstein was commissioned to create a bag for the "Esprit de France" promotion. Rather than doing the obvious - ladylike flowers in pastel colors - he reproduced antique French tarot cards in bold red, black and white. Most daring of all, the bag omitted the store name. Even so, it was unmistakably Bloomingdale's, and the collector's shopping bag was launched. Since then, Bloomingdale's bags have been created by both famous and fledgling artists, architects and ad designers. Their designs have been featured in art museums all over the world.
In 1971 "model rooms", a highlight of Bloomingdale's since 1947, gained worldwide attention. "The Cave," an intricate multi-level frame sprayed entirely in white polyurethane, was a spectacular example of the lengths to which Bloomingdale's would go to make a statement of style. Over the years, the model rooms have been showcases for the talents of everyone from architect Frank Gehry to filmmaker Federico Fellini.
During the 1970's, Bloomingdale's was a favorite stop of the international avant-garde, epitomized locally by the "Young East Sider" who lived right in the neighborhood. In 1973 the store wanted to stamp the Bloomingdale's name on panties to launch an intimate apparel promotion, they chose the company nickname as a nod to the young, trendy crowd, and the "Bloomie's" logo was born. Soon, New Yorkers were affectionately referring to the city's second most popular tourist attraction after the Statue of Liberty as "Bloomie's" and the hottest souvenir in town was anything emblazoned with "Bloomie's".