Shopping’s Legends, Stories High

These world famous department stores were born and raised in New York

Palatial institutions of sorts, New York’s department stores have earned the city its reputation as a fashion capital of the world. Although many of them have grown into national and international brands in their own rights, they are and always will be natives of New York.

Before each business day begins, Lord & Taylor plays the national anthem – a nod to its legacy as the oldest luxury department store chain in the U.S. In fact, it was the first store to do many things: Christmas windows, name a woman as its president, reside on Fifth Avenue. Its building is now officially a New York City landmark, reminiscent of an Italian palazzo on the outside, filled with American goods on the inside, patriotically purporting brands born stateside. (5th Ave. at 39th St.)

Saks Fifth Avenue was similarly one of the first stores to open on its namesake street. Founder Horace Saks called it his “dream store,” and it is still a heavenly destination for anyone in search of high-end goods. Early owners traveled the world in search of items that would set it apart from other department stores, and shoppers still come for its enormous selection of contemporary designers. And for the Carrie Bradshaws of the world, the shoe salon on the 8th floor is a fashion Mecca on its own. (5th Ave. at 50th St.)

Long before it moved to its flagship on Lexington, Bloomingdales began as a hoop skirt shop on the Lower East Side. Like its original apparel, the massive store has never shied from attention, exemplified by its invention of covetable shopping bags – the unmistakable small, medium and big brown bags. The store excels at catering to high-end buyers and style-conscious young adults alike, and six cafés and restaurants – including a Magnolia Bakery – offer respite to shoppers making their ways through its eight-and-a-half floors. (Lexington Ave. at 59th St.)

Around the turn of the century, Manhattan’s elite went to Union Square to have their clothes tailored by Herman Bergdorf. The business soon spiraled into the city’s go-to for French fashions, Bergdorf Goodman, moving uptown to the former site of Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s mansion, where it has remained a house of luxury complete with a fur salon and in-house perfume. The prolific beauty department as well as the separate men’s building across the street were both added in the 90s – relatively recent additions to a store historically influential enough to elicit its own film documentary, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” (5th Ave. at 57th St.)

Barneys New York’s version of luxury has a distinctive contemporary edge, which began when Barney Pressman pawned his wife’s engagement ring for $500 to lease a small space to sell discounted men’s suits. The store has come a long way, now residing on Madison Avenue, which – at its 230,000-square-feet – was the largest new store in New York City since the Great Depression. Designers here are largely of fashion’s new establishment: Thom Browne, Saint Laurent Paris and The Row all hold stake alongside the store’s house brand (that is in no way made for homebodies). (Madison Ave. at 60th St.)

Of course, crucial to department store history is Macy’s. With 793 locations around the U.S., its flagship sits in the middle of Manhattan in Herald Square, where it used to shuttle customers in via steam wagons to have their clothing made-to-measure in an on-site factory. Now, its merchandise is far more diverse, attracting shoppers looking for everything from affordable coats to decent hand towels. Always one for celebrations, Macy’s began the tradition of having a residential Santa during the holidays, and, of course, its Thanksgiving Day Parade. (34th St. at Broadway)