Astor PlaceHistory

John Wanamaker's Revolution: The Department Store

The department store may be old hat today but when John Wanamaker opened the first multipurpose clothing and specialties store in 1876, it was revolutionary. The intent was to create a central market, like London's Royal Exchange or Paris' Les Halles, where upscale goods could be purchased at reasonable prices. In 1907 Wanamaker’s opened at Astor Place in the now historic Wanamaker Building designed by the famed architect Daniel Burnham. Through his department stores, Wanamaker also ushered in price tags, the money-back-guarantee and the “White sale.”

While Wanamaker’s has long since closed, the Wanamaker Building remains a monument to commerce in the Village. Today the major retail anchors are Ann Taylor LOFT, Bank of America and K-Mart, but the upper floors have been converted into over 1 million square feet of office space housing fashion retailer J Crew as well as powerhouse media tenants  AOL, the Huffington Post and, soon, Facebook.

John Wanamaker's Revolution: The Department Store


  1. Harry Matthews
    Harry Matthews on 08/01/2013 10:57 p.m.

    Actually, the original Wanamaker store was the cast iron building on the right-hand side of your period photo. Once called the "Iron Palace," it was built in 1862 by New York's first department store czar, A. T. Stewart. Wanamaker bought out the Stewart company in 1896 and decided to expand, building the larger structure one block to the south, connected to the original store by a three-floor bridge across 9th Street (still marked as "Wanamaker Place"). The Wanamaker store closed in the 1950's and the iron building was sold to a developer in 1955. Weeks before its scheduled demolition, it was destroyed by a huge fire. The site is now occupied by a typical 1960's white-brick apartment building.

    The Wanamaker store was built with direct access to the subway -- doors and windows bricked up when the building was converted to offices. K-Mart, to its credit, re-opened the subway link.

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