It all started with a skirt, a hoop skirt to be exact. At a time when most stores specialized in one specific item, brothers Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale specialized in hoop skirts at their Lower East Side shop. But not long after, they diversified by including a variety of European fashions, opening their East Side Bazaar in 1872 that would become an early version of the modern department store.
The Bloomingdale brothers opened an uptown store on East 59th street in 1886 that would eventually take over the entire block by the 1920s. It wasn’t until 2004, however, that Bloomingdale’s launched their downtown outpost, opening its store at 502-504 Broadway on April 24. The Bloomingdale’s SoHo was not to be a duplicate of their uptown store, but one that appealed to younger and hipper customers as well as tourists.
Architect John Kellum of Kellum & Sons was hired in 1859 to design the “upscale emporium building” at 502-504 Broadway that would be headquarters to C.G. Gunther & Sons, “the oldest and largest fur house in the United States.” Companies selling gloves, shirts, neckwear, belts, hosiery, knits, and dry goods also occupied the building into the 20th century.
The Daytonian described the Kellum & Sons designed building at 502-504 Broadway as follows:
The cast iron storefront of clustered columns and regimented arches was manufactured by the Architectural Iron Works. Its catalogue listed these capitals as “Gothic.” Above, the four stories of white marble were distinguished by two-story arches, separated by slim engaged columns which would later earn the style “sperm candle” because of the similarity to candles made from the waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale.
In 1992, over 120 years after 502-504 Broadway was completed, Canal Jean leased 502-504 Broadway. This hugely popular store, originally located on Canal Street, sold new and vintage clothes, including “dirt-cheap Levis, discounted Calvin Klein thongs and racks and racks of vintage coats.” (New York Post)
When Bloomingdale’s took over Canal Jean’s space in April 2014, many eyebrows shot up. Few people living in lower Manhattan could imagine that a department store, let alone a Bloomingdale’s would open in SoHo. 2018 will mark the 14th anniversary of the opening of Bloomingdale’s SoHo location that continues to be one of the most popular retail destinations in SoHo. In an unexpected homage to SoHo Broadway’s past, this month’s Bloomingdale’s SoHo window display features characters from the just released The Greatest Showman which tells the story of PT Barnum who’s American Museum called SoHo Broadway home in the 1860’s.
Read more from the Look Back at SoHo Broadway Series by Yukie Ohta