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B. Altman and Company was a New York City-based department store founded in 1865 by Benjamin Altman. It officially closed on December 31, 1989.

One of the first American department stores to open out-of-town branches, Altman's eventually opened locations in Pennsylvania (St. Davids, 1965, Willow Grove, 1983), New Jersey (Short Hills, 1958, (replacing the earlier nearby East Orange store), Ridgewood/Paramus, 1967), and New York state (Manhasset, 1947, West Babylon, White Plains, 1930) as well as its block-long main flagship store at Fifth Avenue 1906-1912 and 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. A short-lived location in Cincinnati opened during the L.J. Hooker ownership period, and two mall locations in Buffalo and Syracuse were physically completed but never occupied by Altman's during that same time.

History

Fifth Avenue store

Benjamin Altman founded his first store on Third Avenue and 10th Street in 1865, which later relocated and expanded to 19th Street and Sixth Avenue. In 1906 the store relocated to the block-long structure on Fifth Avenue running from 34th to 35th Streets, which was later expanded to include the Madison Avenue blockfront. In the 1930s, Altman's made one of the early entries in the suburbs, with branches opening in East Orange (later relocated to Short Hills), White Plains and Manhasset. The foresight of the organization in geographical selection can be seen in that the Short Hills location is now The Mall at Short Hills, the White Plains location is now The Westchester shopping mall, and the Manhasset location is adjacent to the Americana Manhasset, which opened nine years after the Altman's store.

When Benjamin Altman died he left no heirs, and besides his art collection going to the Metropolitan Museum, his stock in the stores was placed in a foundation, the Altman Foundation. In 1985, due to changing IRS rulings, the Foundation sold the stores to an investor group that included members of the Gucci family and two principals from financial firm Deloitte & Touche.

In 1987 Australian real estate development company L.J. Hooker and its CEO, George Herscu, purchased the controlling interest in the B. Altman stores (as well as Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz and a majority of Parisian) to utilize these chains as anchors in poorly located, yet extravagant, new shopping centers across the country. Knowing virtually nothing about how to operate these various retailing chains, and then placing them in locations with no regard to market recognition or demographics, the strategy failed miserably, and in August 1989 B. Altman filed for bankruptcy protection, with the last store closing in 1990.

Another less well-known but equally catastrophic venture included building two upstate New York stores that were part of a different expansion strategy that never materialized. The suburban Buffalo location at the huge Walden Galleria complex was, in fact, fully completed and fixtured but never occupied by Altman's. It would later be occupied in 1991 by local department store, AM&A's, and eventually a Bon-Ton, who vacated in 2006. This former never-opened Altman's location will soon will be demolished for a new cinema complex. The Carousel Center Mall location in Syracuse was under construction at the time and redesigned to house a succession of several discount anchors, one on each of the two floors.

The store has long had a reputation for gentility and conservatism.[1] "Altman's program, as it starts its second century, is to retain its image as a carriage-trade store, safely conservative,"[2] It was regarded as similar to the renowned Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. Highlighting its sober reputation, the stores included a satellite location of Colonial Williamsburg's Craft House that sold classic colonial reproductions. Two lost treasures from the store are the famous Christmas windows, which rivaled Lord & Taylor's, a few blocks up Fifth Avenue, as well as the Charleston Gardens restaurant, which housed a full-sized facade of a Tara-like Charleston home. The St. David's location also had a Charleston Garden restaurant, as did the other branch stores.

References

External links

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