Historic Structures

Hahne and Company Department Store, Newark New Jersey

Date added: September 18, 2020 Categories: New Jersey Commercial Retail Department Store

The establishment of the first department store has been credited to Aristide Bougicaut, with the founding of his Bon Marche' store in Paris in 1838. Beginning with a drapery store, by 1860, the Bon Marche' store had separate departments selling dresses, coats, millinery, underwear and shoes. The storeowner encouraged customers to visit his store by creating displays and offers, with clearly marked prices on the goods. He pioneered the idea of the store as purposely designed for fashionable public assembly rather than just a means of supply. Boucicaut allowed customers to exchange merchandise they bought or get their money back. His money-back guarantee was a new concept that built up his trade substantially, and he reversed the prevalent practice of taking a high profit on goods that turned over slowly. Selling his merchandise at a small markup, he depended on a rapid turnover to make his profit. The success of the store was reflected in the opening of rival stores such as Le Printemps in 1865 and La Bell Jardinie're in 1866. These stores caught the imagination of American visitors to Paris and formed the basis for early American department stores. R.H. Macy visited the store himself and, when he got back home, outfitted his doormen in uniforms like those worn by Bon Marche' employees.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, national economic conditions were very favorable to the development of the department store. The American department store is largely a product of the period 1860 to 1910, due to several important factors, besides the example of Bon marche'. First, population increased dramatically in many regions of the country in the second half of the nineteenth century. Large numbers of people lived in relatively small areas and were easily able to reach almost any place in town with the development of improved mass transportation systems. Horse drawn trolleys, the precursors of electric trolley systems in Newark, as well as in other metropolitan areas, charged a reasonable fare to transport potential consumers from every point in town to the point of sale. More and better advertising, enabling merchants to lure customers to their stores, was made possible by the lowering of the price of paper in the 1830s. By around 1850, the typical once column-wide advertisement evolved into a much larger, multi-column, profusely illustrated ad. The development of plate glass windows allowed for elaborate window displays and in-store advertising.

More available capital during the Industrial Revolution, low taxes, and cheap labor to build and staff stores also contributed to the rise of the department store in America. These factors, together with an improved standard of living and a demand for a greater variety and quality of goods, encouraged small merchants to expand their operations. By the 1870s, the department store had a firm foothold in America.

The history of the development of the department store in Newark, parallels that of department stores in the major metropolitan areas of the United States. Until the 1870s, Newarkers, like shoppers everywhere, depended on specialty stores. If they wanted shoes, they went to a shoe store. If they wanted a man's suit they frequented a draper. So it went with every imaginable consumer article. Men had their clothing tailor-made (or homemade) and women went to dressmakers or fashioned their own wardrobes. Stores were located on the ground floors of small commercial buildings lining Broad Street. Most of these were no more than five stories in height and four bays wide, an unintimidating scale which encouraged pedestrian activity. More prosperous nineteenth century merchants sometimes occupied more than one small store, connecting and unifying a series of storefronts with an awning over the store windows. Buildings of various styles, probably adapted from more advanced models known to architects through books and journals, existed comfortably side by side.

The Industrial Revolution brought manufacturing advances which created affordable, machine-made products that quickened the buying pace and pushed down prices. Increased volume and lower prices, combined with expanding payrolls, called for dramatic new selling techniques. Improved transportation enabled people from all parts of the city to travel to downtown. Electricity and increased real estate prices brought multi-story buildings to the central business district. All of these factors combined, made the department store possible.

Julius Hahne, a pocketbook maker from Germany, started a small bird cage and toy store on Broad Street in 1858. He chose a central location, slightly to the north of the Four Corners area, across from Military Park. Having established himself, Hahne began to respond to local market pressure. The improved standard of living created a greater demand for consumer goods, so Hahne gradually began to introduce new products. By the 1870s, he had expanded his line to general merchandise, which he departmentalized, a new phenomenon in Newark. Hahne also offered free store deliveries. When his sons opened their new building at the corner of Broad and New Streets, in 1901, the store's clientele included many of Newark's wealthiest families. Customers drew up to Hahne's in handsome carriages, lending an air of dignity and approval to such merchandising.

Next came L.S. Plaut, founded in 1870 by L. Simon Plaut from Connecticut, and his senior partner, Leopold Fox. Their "Bee Hive" beside the Morris Canal prospered, with Plauts' one-price policy, without rebates or gifts as premiums. The "Bee-Hive" was a top Newark name until 1923, when Sebastian Kresge bought the establishment and rebuilt it into the well-known Kresge Department Store.

The last of the three major department stores was L. Bamberger and Company. Louis Bamberger came to Newark from Baltimore, where his maternal grandparents had founded Hutzler Brothers, a prominent mercantile concern. Bamberger purchased the bankrupt stock of Hill and Craig, a dry goods business, late in 1892. Together with Felix Fuld, a young rubber goods salesman, and his brother-in-law, Louis M. Frank, he established the L. Bamberger and Company in the Ballantine Building at Market Street and Library Court, far south of where the center of mercantile Newark was located. Although skeptics scoffed at their location, L. Bamberger and Company proceeded to expand their enterprise, gradually spreading to all six floors of their building and into an adjacent building by the turn-of-the-century. In 1912, Bamberger's put up a new store on the Washington and Market Street site. Using the fixed price custom established by Hahne's and L.S. Plaut, Bamberger's firmly stuck to its "customer is always right" policy.

Although Bamberger's copied many of the shopping amenities available at Hahne's, Louis Bamberger decided to go even further to attract his clientele. In 1922, at the suggestion of a clerk in the store's radio department, Mr. Bamberger started Station WOR, which remained at the top of the building until 1942. Bamberger's also published a magazine for its clientele, Charm, to keep them informed of store developments.

While Hahne's cultivated an image of exclusivity, Bamberger's appealed to a larger audience. While Bamberger's sales ladies donned long, black aprons, and the floor walkers wore Prince Albert coats to give the store an elite air, the carriage trade remained loyal to Hahne's. Hahne's was a solid fixture in Newark's central business district, as solid a civic fixture as the public library or the banks.

When the Hahne's new store opened in 1901, 1,200 employees were required to run the store. Many of these employees were women, a new career option previously unavailable to them. Before the Civil War, Godey's Lady's Book, the first American women's magazine, had surveyed women's employment options and dispiritedly concluded that there were still only two: "teaching and the needle." Department stores changed that, too, as women displaced men on the selling floors, dispensing fashion advice and giving fittings, which shoppers preferred to get from another female. Following World War I, the big stores provided women access to jobs that offered the independence and adventure of a merchandising manager, or perhaps a buyer, traveling to markets to acquire new fashions, and occasionally traveling all the way to the executive suite. Hahne's provided employment opportunites for women as well as influenced local commerce. As the largest department store in Newark, and one of the largest commercial enterprises of any kind in the city, Hahne's became one of Newark's largest bank depositors.

The store closed its doors in 1986, and the building was left vacant.

The development of the Hahne and Company Store

On September 7, 1858, Julius Hahne, a pocketbook maker from Saxony, Germany, opened a small store specializing in bird cages and toys with a partner, Adam Block, a fellow leather worker, at the corner of Broad Street and Central Avenue. By the early 1860s, their store was so successful, that they moved to a larger store on Broad Street and expanded their line of goods. In the 1870s, Adam Block retired, and Julius Hahne expanded once again. The company rented Edgar Flats, two, three story brick buildings, on Broad Street, near New Street, and when these buildings proved too small, they rented an additional three buildings to the south. In 1877, Hahne boasted that his company was the largest store in the state with 12,000 square feet "all on one floor".

Julius Hahne introduced the department system, grouping merchandise in specific areas and assigning clerks to specialize in their respective goods. Customers were invited to "walk in and look around" and were not badgered by clerks once they entered the store. Every item carried a price tag, eliminating the haggling and bargaining in vogue at many other stores at that time. Hahne's sons, later to become members of the company, as babies were dressed in red flannel nightgowns and crawled among the toys in the store windows to draw shoppers.

Julius Hahne died on February 7, 1895. His sons decided to expand the company once again. This time, they quietly purchased properties in Broad, New and Halsey Streets, eventually assembling a site of 35 buildings covering approximately two acres. On the 43rd anniversary of the founding of Hahne and Company, the three brothers, Richard, Albert J. and August Hahne, and their brother-in-law, William H. Keliner, opened the new store at the corner of Broad and New Streets. The brothers grew up in the business, learning it first hand in the store, and they married Hahne's employees. They were committed to the future success of the department store and believed that their new store was "the most modern in America".

The new Hahne and Company store was considered an important development in department store construction and merchants journeyed from all over the country to inspect it. Every amenity possible was incorporated into the new store: a nursery and merry-go-round for the care and entertainment of the children, an amusement hall and art gallery, a men's smoking room, mezzanine floors designed for customer relaxation while shopping, restaurant, a soda fountain capable of seating 60 customers, a "moving staircase," fireproof construction and sprinkler systems. Everything was done to attract customers into the store and keep them there all afternoon, and the Hahne family spared no expense in making the customers comfortable and happy. The store, which was larger than two football fields on each floor, required 1,200 employees to run it, including an in-house engineering department.

Many of these amenities were characteristic of the department store building type prevalent at the turn-of-the-century, and already dominating the large metropolitan areas, such as Wanamaker's and Strawbridge and Clothier's in Philadelphia, and A.T. Stewart's Marble Palace in New York (although many of the larger, better known department stores were well established by this time, the construction of their flagship stores followed that of Hahne's, i.e. R.H. Macy's opened in 1902). These features included: a central location, strict departmentalization of merchandise, exterior advertising, electrical lighting, vertical integration through the use of elevators, a central atrium, pneumatic tube system for the distribution of cash, dining and relaxation facilities for customers and dining facilities for employees.

The sheer scale of the operation and the novelty of putting so many departments under one roof impressed even the most skeptical customers. This sort of scale and vision was in itself an early form of retail design, at first more than sufficient to stimulate and sustain customer interest. Hahne's was very successful at managing the trick of making middle class goods luxurious by means of the store environment.

The Hahne and Company store was Newark's largest and oldest department store. In 1901, it's new flagship store was considered one of the largest department stores in the United States. Founded in 1858, it was followed by other Newark department stores including L. Simon Plaut and Leopold Fox's "The Beehive" in 1870; L. Bamberger and Company in 1893; Kresge and Goerke in 1924; Hearns in 1937; and S. Klein in 1950.

Architect Goldwin Starrett

The Hahne and Company building was designed by Goldwin Starrett, architect for the Thompson-Starrett Company, one of the largest construction companies in the United States at the turn-of-the century. The company was known for their erection of high and monumental buildings, all noted for their quick construction.

Born in Lawrence, Kansas, on September 29, 1874, Goldwin Starrett was one of five brothers active in the building industry. Starrett was graduated B.S. in 1894 at the University of Michigan and then entered the employ of D.H. Burnham and Company, architects of Chicago. After four years, he moved to New York City where he joined his brother Theodore, then in charge of the George A. Fuller Company. Together they left the Fuller Company, and with Henry S. Thompson, and their other brothers, Ralph, Paul and William, founded the Thompson- Starrett Company. In 1901, Goldwin designed the Hahne and Company Building and the Thompson-Starrett Company constructed it.

Sometime after designing the Hahne and Company building, Goldwin Starrett left his construction company to open a granite quarry in Bethel, Vermont. From this quarry, he supplied the granite for the Union Railroad Station in Wahington, D. C., and the Title Guarantee and Trust Company building in New York. Abandoning the quarry business, he formed the firm of Starrett and Van Vleck, architects, in 1904, with offices on 40th Street in Manhattan. The firm was responsible for the design of many commercial buildings including the Lord and Taylor department store, Everett Building, and Berkeley Building in New York; the la Salle and Koch store in Toledo, Ohio; the Court and Remsen Street building in Brooklyn, and a high school at Mt. Vernon, N.Y. He designed the building at 8 West 40th Street, New York, the first inside lot building finished in the same material on all four elevations. He died at Glen Ridge, New Jersey on May 9, 1918.

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