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Crowley's
Fate liquidated
Successor Value City
Founded 1909
Headquarters Michigan, Michigan
 United States
Key people Joseph, William, and Daniel Crowley
Industry Department store
Parent Crowley Milner and Company
Subsidiaries Steinbach's

Crowley Milner and Company, generally referred to as Crowley's, was a department store chain that was founded in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1900s. The store maintained a flagship location, corporate office and warehouse complex in downtown Detroit, in direct competition with the Hudson's chain. Crowley's and Hudson's were both noted for their lavish annual Christmas displays. Faced with a decline in retail traffic in downtown Detroit, Crowley's closed its downtown location in July 1977, the firm did open and maintain a store in Detroit's New Center area that remained open until the chain's demise.

In 1995, the chain acquired Steinbach. Crowley's went out of business in 1999. Three mall-based stores were bought by discount chain Value City. These three stores were converted to "Crowley's Value City" in 1999, and remained Value City stores until that chain closed in 2008.

Contents

History

Crowley, Milner and Company was created in 1909 when Joseph J. Crowley, his brothers William and Daniel, and William L. Milner joined to save a struggling department store in Detroit called Partridge and Blackwell. Joseph Crowley had spent the previous few years working as a credit manager for Detroit wholesaler Burnham Stoepel, a job which often required that he help reorganize struggling ventures. His brothers had joined him in 1902 to form the Crowley Brothers Wholesale Dry Goods Company. Meanwhile, Milner was operating the W.L. Milner Department Store in Toledo, Ohio, a company that was a regular customer of the Crowley Brothers' enterprise.

After leaving Burnham Stoepel to fully focus his energy on Crowley Brothers, Joseph Crowley was approached by an executive of the Central Savings Bank of Detroit about the Partridge and Blackwell opportunity. The company was a specialty retailer teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to organizational problems that were exacerbated by the recession in 1907. Crowley agreed to take over the struggling company on the condition that his two brothers and Milner join him in the endeavor. They all agreed, and in 1909 Crowley, Milner and Company was incorporated as the successor to Partridge and Blackwell.

Crowley, Milner & Co. immediately set about the task of positioning itself as one of Detroit's highest quality retail operations. In the early 1900s, Detroit was regarded as one of the country's most beautiful and affluent cities, and Crowley, Milner & Co. catered to this image. The store was stocked with luxurious clothing and gifts, much of which was imported from Europe, as well as a fancy full-service restaurant and one of Detroit's best grocery stores. In less than ten years, the Crowley, Milner & Co. store had been expanded in size and was the largest department store in Michigan.

Unfortunately, the company's success was marred when Milner was killed in an automobile accident while traveling to his Toledo store in 1923. Not only did the company lose its president and merchandising expert, but his 42 percent interest in the store was sold by his family. Without Milner, the store eventually came to be known as Crowley's, but the company retained its full name to the end. Joseph Crowley succeeded his friend and partner as the company's president, but the loss of full control of its holdings hit the company hard for many years thereafter.

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1990s

At the turn of the decade, Crowley, Milner & Co.'s sales declined with the introduction of Federated Department Stores MainStreet (replaced by Kohl’s) and Mervyns expansion in Detroit cost the company revenue. Crowley’s also began to go more upmarket with lines by Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren aimed at the Hudson's or Lord & Taylor shopper. This was not a successful move, as Crowley’s was seen as a more mid-market store with locations in Detroit’s older suburbs.

The introduction of a prototype men's clothing store next to its Farmington, Michigan location proved to be a successful move. Sales there were strong, and the company discussed plans to introduce more similar stores in the future. This store within a store had its own entrance and focused on men’s suits and accessories; similar to the Men's Wearhouse. The young men’s and sportswear was in the located in the main store. Also, Crowley's instituted a "Frequent Buyer" program at all of its stores, as a method of getting customers to come back again and again. The program kept track of each customer's monthly purchase amounts, and then the stores issued gift certificates based on each person's sales figures.

Initially, the Frequent Buyers program was a huge hit with customers. By mid-1992, there were approximately 55,000 participants and new members were being added at a rate of about 3,000 each month. Unfortunately, however, the company's yearly sales figures continued to drop, with the 1992 figures almost $10 million less than those of 1991. Crowley, Milner & Co. began aggressively searching for a merger partner that was large enough to help the company expand. It was management's opinion that long-term growth for the Crowley's chain would come through acquisition of some type, with the most likely scenario being an acquisition by another party.

Near the end of 1992, the company tried to expand its reach to Lansing, Michigan's capital city, opening a specialty store for women there that was similar to the men's store in Farmington. The store was unsuccessful, however, either due to its location or to its design. Some felt that the Farmington Men’s Store, which carried only business dress/casual and accessory items, had been successful because men appreciated a store in which they could quickly and easily locate the merchandise they sought. Women, on the other hand, typically liked a department store which had merchandise for everyone under one roof. Some speculated that the women's-only Crowley's in Lansing may have suffered for that reason, while others cited the difficulty in expanding to a locale which was unfamiliar with the Crowley's name.

In January 1993, Soffel retired from the company and was followed by Dennis Callahan, who came with over two decades of experience in retail. One of his first tasks was to sign a revolving loan agreement with Schottenstein Stores, which provided Crowley, Milner & Co. with money to resume payments to its creditors. The company then implemented a new workforce management computer software system, as a means of saving money on the tasks of tracking employees' work time and attendance. The program was called Smart Scheduler. Another change that came in 1993 was the close of the Westland store, which had been struggling. The Frequent Buyers program was cut at the end of the year.

In 1994, sales began to increase once again, and the company announced its first profitable quarter in almost five years. Callahan continued to rebuild the company's financial stability, through such moves as the acceptance of a new working capital loan agreement with Congress Financial Corporation, which replaced the previous agreement with Schottenstein Stores Corp. Also initiated was a two-for-one split of the company's common stock that spring. The store introduced it own credit card and “Detroit’s Own Department Store” slogan was used.

Sales in 1995 rose to $109.9 million. Crowley’s purchased department stores previously owned and operated by Steinbach Stores from Schottenstein Stores Corp. Steinbach's stores were spread throughout the northeastern United States, in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

In 1996 Crowley’s proposed a new store for Novi’s Main Street development by 1999, this fell through as did a formal takeover of local women’s fashion chain Winkelman's. It did expand into the Winkelman’s store at Tel-Twelve Mall and opened a separate Men’s store in that mall. At the New Center One Building with the departure of Winkelman’s and Himelhoch’s Croweley’s enlarged its presence with a separate children’s and separate home store in the mall like building. This was not their largest location, but was the most profitable store by square footage.

In 1997, three mall-based stores — Livonia Mall in Livonia, Universal Mall in Warren and Macomb Mall in Roseville — were sold to Value City. A fourth, at Westborn Mall in Dearborn, was slated to become a Value City as well,[1] but was instead shuttered and replaced with a Kroger supermarket. Another mall-based location at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights became an auxiliary Hudson's store. Four Steinbach stores in New Jersey (Ocean Township, Paramus, Manalapan, Egg Harbor Township) converted to Value City.

References

  1. ^ Bridgeforth, Arthur, Jr. (1999-03-29). "Value City to revamp 4 Crowley's (brief article)". Crain's Detroit Business. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-54252957.html. Retrieved 2007-08-15.  

Further reading

  • Crowley, Milner & Co. Corporate History, Detroit: Crowley, Milner & Co., 1997
  • "Crowley's Will Add Store at Tel-Twelve," Crain's Detroit Business, April 30, 1990, p. 2.
  • Crump, Constance, "Crowley's Goals: Black Ink, Merger Partner," Crain's Detroit Business, June 15, 1992, p. 3
  • "Improvement In Sight?: Crowley Execs Say Focused Strategy Will Restore Profits," Crain's Detroit Business, February 25, 1991, p. 1
  • "Interfacing With the Time Clock System," Chain Store Age Executive, November 1993, p. 61.
  • Wilson, Melinda, "Out-Of-Towners Increase Stake in Crowley's," Crain's Detroit Business, March 19, 1990, p. 1.
  • International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 19. St. James Press, 1998.

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