Monday, September 28, 2015

Speaking of Department Stores

Got back from the gym & swim and was browsing through Pinterest (yes, I pin) and ran across a site named Department Store Museum. Now here is something I know a lot about! Starting with my grandmother, Nana, she worked in downtown L.A. at a store named J. W. Robinson's. She worked there till she retired at age 75. She worked in the lamp department 7th floor. Sometimes, dad would take all three of the kids (myself included) into L.A. to pick her up on a Friday afternoon. Once, I rode the bus, by myself, from Manhattan Beach to downtown. It wasn't my first trip and I remembered that I had to transfer once. I was ten or eleven at the time. I remember taking the elevator up to the seventh floor. I had to tell the elevator operator which floor I wanted. Then I walked through a maze of lamps till I found my very regal looking Nana. She always wore black with a simple pearl necklace.

But I didn't always go to Robinson's. My mother would take me to May Co., The Broadway (with wooden escalators) and Buffum's. I found them all fascinating.

Fast forward to the early 70's and I was making a living in construction; building department stores. Topanga Plaza Mall was being built and we built the May Co. and Montgomery Wards. After those came a long string of Broadway stores. We built them in Las Vegas, Reno, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Phoenix, Scottsdale and half a dozen or more throughout the Los Angeles basin. In between building new store we also remodeled existing stores including the iconic Broadway store on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

We didn't limit ourselves to Broadway stores and we built half a dozen May Co.'s, a Buffum's or two and some ritzy ones in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. As you can tell, we did a lot of traveling and it wasn't always on the west coast. We built a G. Fox store in Waterbury, CT and a Buffum's in Edison, NJ. I think the last store we built was a single story department store for Gottschalk's, in Chico, CA. Twenty years later and I'm living in Chico. (that last store has changed owners and is now named Forever 21)

Yes, the Department Store Museum website brought back a ton of memories; going all the way back to when I was five years old!


  1. I miss those old department stores. They had a personality that a mall just can't match. Portland had one downtown, Meier and Frank and it had 12 floors (I think) with the fancy restaurant and expensive clothes on the upper floors. Once, when I was in high school, a girlfriend's mother wanted her to take a charm course and had me come too as a friend for her. The models who worked in the store were teaching it. It was fun but the funniest was the last day, when we'd gone through the ten classes and they put out some makeup free for the girls to take. They jumped onto it like a fire sale and all thought of being ladies was gone. Being a shy one, I had stood back and was glad as I heard the models horror at what they saw after all those weeks of charm teaching ;)

  2. Oh, I do remember their personalities. Robinson's and a few others had 'Tea Rooms' while the May Co. had a coffee shop. I remodeled two Saks 5th Ave, stores, one in Beverly Hills and the other in Palm Springs. They had enough 'personality' for a dozen stores. In Beverly Hills, they locked us in overnight while we worked and I had time to wander through the store. I was amazed everywhere I looked as I read the price tags. $$$$$$$