Bambergers - Kresges -
Downtown Newark in the first half of the last century had something
to attract everybody -- a variety of theatres, and a wealth of shops
of every type -- five and tens, specialty stores, clothing and shoe
stores, and other stores offering virtually everything one could
But the biggest magnet for downtown shoppers were the "Big
3" department stores, L. Bamberger & Co., Kresge's Department
Store, and Hahne & Company.
Between their wide range of merchandise offerings and their seasonal
offerings and colorful displays, including Santa Claus and the Easter
Bunny for the kiddies, the big three department stores were the
crown jewels of downtown Newark shopping.
All are now gone and remain only in the memories of Newark old-timers,
but the paragraphs following open a window to their past glory and
a brief look into the origins and lives of each of them and their
lasting impact on the City of Newark.
L. Bamberger & Co.
Bamberger's was actually the newest of the "big 3" in
terms of longevity. Louis Bamberger had purchased the original store
at auction in 1892. It was on the corner of Market and Halsey Streets.
It proved an immediate success and after a number of expansions
on the same block, in 1912 he put up an entirely new building bounded
by Market, Halsey, Washington, and Bank Streets.
By the mid-1920s, Bamberger's employed 2,800 people and was ranked
in the top five department stores in the country in terms of sales
volume. I recall the Bamberger-owned delivery trucks (a 36-vehicle
fleet) that would deliver any purchase or order without charge.
An acquaintance of Louis Bamberger, recalling him in the days
when he actively operated the store, described him thus: He would
come into the side entrance of the store on Washington Street. He
would have a gray homburg, in light gray or dark clothes and a walking
stick with a gold tip. He would catch admiring glances as he walked
into his store. The Bamberger coworkers adored him. When he died
in March 1944 (see obituary1),
he left money for every employee that had worked there for a certain
period of time.
Bamberger, to the best of my knowledge, never married and was
extremely generous to the City of Newark and its institutions.
He made a major capital gift to the High Street 'Y' which enabled
it to open in 1925 in a magnificent three-story Georgian brick $500,000
In 1926, Louis Bamberger gave the City of Newark a new $750,000
limestone building to house the Newark Museum. It was a replacement
for a pre-Civil War wood framed mansion.
Bamberger also was a major donor to the building of the New Jersey
Historical Society in north Newark, and was a patron of the Newark
In 1928, the year before he sold his store to R. H. Macy, he also
became a major donor to the new Beth Israel Hospital2,
a 12 story Spanish-style hospital with 350 beds on Lyons Avenue
in the Weequahic section of Newark.
Such was the power and prestige of the "Bamberger" name
in Newark that, although Macy had owned the store since 1929, it
did not change the Newark store name to "Macy" until 1986,
fifty seven years after the purchase, and just six years before
the store's final closing.
The store closed in Newark in 1992.
The famous Bamberger's Clock on the corner of Market and Halsey
Streets was a favorite Downtown Newark meeting place for generations
of Newarkers. At the start of the twenty-first century, the famed
Bamberger Clock was still in place at its original site, and still
marking time for downtown Newark shoppers and workers.
* * *
Kresge's Department Store
Kresge's Department Store occupied the downtown Newark block bounded
by Cedar, Halsey, and Broad Streets, and Raymond Boulevard. Its
official address was 715 Broad Street. The Raymond Boulevard side
of the store was the former site of the Morris Canal. The Canal
bed had become the Newark City Subway and was topped by a new street
called Raymond Boulevard.
Kresge's was a stop on the Newark City Subway and had decorated
basement show windows at the station stop to attract subway riders.
Kresge's Department Store, which in its later years called itself
Kresge * Newark, was known to its thousands of loyal customers as
The store site was the oldest department store site in Newark.
The store had originally opened in 1870, operated by the three Plaut
brothers, Simon, Louis and Moses. It built a huge following as Newark's
first and only department store as "The Bee Hive" although
customers liked to refer to the store as "Plaut's".
The store became the Kresge Department Store in 1923 when the
Plaut brothers sold their business to Sebastian S. Kresge for $17
As the store continued to thrive, in 1926, Kresge replaced the
old Plaut Bee Hive with a ten-story brown brick structure.
While the new building loomed large on Broad Street, it faced
just across Military Park from another new building erected that
same year called the Military Park Building. At twenty one stories,
it was the tallest building in New Jersey at that time.
* * *
During World War 2, many Kresge employees left for service in
the armed forces. The store maintained mail links with them and
regularly reported on their doings through its employee magazine,
the K. D. S. News3.
Early in July 1945, newly returned from overseas military service
in World War II, I visited Kresge-Newark, as it was then known,
to be a featured guest on a daily radio program broadcast from the
store, called the Kresge * Newark Magazine of the Air.
Advertisements in the Newark Evening News and the Newark Star-Ledger
the day before the broadcast contained this notice: "Tomorrow's
Featured Guest: Nat G. Bodian, former South Atlantic Correspondent
for 'YANK' MAGAZINE. You are invited to attend our broadcast of
Fun and Interesting Entertainment."
I later received a
from the Kresge-Newark Radio Editor
telling me "Your talk was extremely interesting and we have
heard many favorable comments on it."
* * *
The life span of the Kresge Department Store, which began in 1923,
came to an end in 1964, forty one years later. In that year, the
Kresge Foundation, a charity of Sebastian S. Kresge, sold all of
the store's stock to David T. Chase.
With that purchase, the new name of the Kresge-Newark store became
Chase-Newark as of June 1964.
The Chase reign as a Newark department store ended in January
1967 when Chase-Newark Corporation announced it had leased the Newark
store to the "Two Guys" chain. An auction was held on
the premises to removed the Chase-Newark contents in March 1967.
* * *
The Generosity of the Plauts
Like Louis Bamberger, the Plaut Brothers shared their financial
success in Newark with their fellow Newarkers. Devout Jews, they
were associated with many Jewish causes, among them the Jewish Children's
Home, Plaut Memorial Hebrew Free School, United Hebrew Charities,
the High Street 'Y', and Temple B'nai Jeshurun where Simon Plaut
was a trustee.
Among the non-Jewish organizations the Plaut family supported
financially were the Red Cross, Navy Club of the United States,
the National and Newark Chambers of Commerce, the Newark Musical
Festival Association, and the New Jersey Historical Society.
* * *
Hahne & Company
Hahne & Company was Newark's first department store. It actually
began in 1858 as a bird cage store at the corner of Central Avenue
and Broad Street, a dirt-covered 132-foot wide road that became
a muddy swamp after every rainfall."
Its founder was Julius Hahne, a former pocketbook maker, who employed
his three sons in the store, Albert, August, and Richard.
By 1862, five years after Broad Street was paved for the first
time, the store was dealing in general merchandise and the Newark
City Directory of that year had the business listed as "dealers
in toys and fancy goods."
Newarkers of the late 19th century took to the store and it expanded
into 641 and 643 Broad Street. Toward the end of the century, the
Hahnes board of directors, consisting of Julius' sons, Richard,
Albert, and August, and the husband of his daughter Clara, William
H. Kellner made plans for a grand new building.
They commissioned the architect Goldwin Starrett to design a building
that would stand out on Broad Street. The four-story building, on
23 acres, which would later be considered a national treasure4
was completed and opened in 1901 at 605-625 Broad Street, with 407,500
square feet of floor space.
At its opening, the Newark Daily Advertiser 6 described the new
store as "one of the largest and most elegant stores in America."
Its construction had consumed 7,000 tons of steel and5
million bricks, and it contained nearly two acres of plate glass
The Hahne family lived in a fashionable townhouse residence at
45 Lincoln Park, at the other end of Broad Street, and were recognizable
as they rode in their horse-drawn carriage up Broad Street to their
store in the early years of the 20th century.
During the Hahne family ownership of the department store, matching
the generosity of the other two "Big 3" store owners,
the Hahnes generously supported many civic projects of the Federation
of Women's Clubs, and contributed to numerous Newark social and
Hahne & Company maintained a loyal and largely upscale following
during most of its 85 year history. In its earlier years, it was
the store where Newark's wealthiest families arrived in handsome
carriages to do their shopping.
Unlike its two major competitors, Hahne & Co., despite two
changes of ownership, kept the same name throughout its life in
Newark. Control of the company passed from the Hahne family to R.
H. Macy on the eve of World War 1.
From the mid-1970s until its closing, it had been a division of
Associated Dry Goods, a New York based holding company, which at
that time also included Lord & Taylor.
The store was closed by its owners in 1986 after it had become
The two restaurants in Hahnes were a favorite eating place for
many downtown Newark shoppers and workers. Shoppers favored the
more upscale pine-paneled restaurant toward the back on the main
floor. Downtown workers, out for lunch, favored the downstairs low-eating-counter
luncheonette with the fixed chair swivel seats.
* * *
My First Hahne's Experience
Just weeks after our marriage in June 1947, my wife and I were
fortunate enough to find an apartment and to vacate our furnished
attic room at 595 Hunterdon Street. Our first necessity was a bedroom
We went to Hahne's after friends told us the store had an excellent
furniture department. At Hahne's, my wife and I spotted a marked-down
light-wood mahogany bedroom set that had been used as a display
model. We both flipped over it and it was the first major purchase
of our marriage.
We finally replace it in 1982, after 35 years of use. Still in
reasonably good condition, we donated it to the Salvation Army.