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Department stores, those amazingly large buildings with hundreds of thousands of square feet filled with countless departments from clothing to toys to cosmetics; didn’t develop as "anchor stores" in shopping centers outside of town in the 1950‘s as some might think.

Rather their roots harken way back to Bennett's of Irongate, founded in 1734 in Derby, England. Amazingly, Bennett’s Is still in business today and it’s still in the same building! That’s a 234 year old phenomenon!

As durable as Bennett’s has been, the notion of one store with many departments didn’t arrive on the American scene until 1846 - in New York City. Within a few years, multi-storied department stores, covering entire city blocks with marble facades and huge plate glass windows told the world retail would never be the same.

The following stories tell us about 3 incredible American entrepreneurs and their contribution to the concept of large retailers with multiple departments.

"One of the early American pioneers was Rowland Hussey Macy who opened his dry goods store in 1858. After several failed retail ventures, Rowland Hussey Macy's determination and ingenuity paid off at the age of 36 with the launch of R.H. Macy & Co. He adopted a red star as his symbol of success, dating back to his days as a sailor. First-day sales totaled $11.06 but by the end of the first full year, sales grossed almost $90,000. By 1877, R.H. Macy & Co. had become a full-fledged department store occupying the ground space of 11 adjacent buildings.

Always the innovator, Macy's is known for several firsts that changed the retail industry.

  • Macy's was the first retailer to promote a woman, Margaret Getchell, to an executive position, making business history.
  • Macy's pioneered such revolutionary business practices as the one-price system, in which the same item was sold to every customer at one price, and quoting specific prices for goods in newspaper advertising.
  • Known for its creative merchandising, Macy's was the first to introduce such products as the tea bag, the Idaho baked potato and colored bath towels.
  • Macy's also was the first retailer to hold a New York City liquor license.
In 1924, Macy's Herald Square became the "World's Largest Store," with more than 1 million square feet of retail space.

By 1918, R.H. Macy & Co. was generating $36 million in annual sales.

To help celebrate their new American heritage, Macy's immigrant employees organized the first Christmas Parade in 1924. The procession featured floats, bands, animals from the zoo and 10,000 onlookers, beginning a time-honored tradition now known as the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Macy's California broke new ground with the first department store flower show in 1946. What began as a fragrance promotion in the cosmetics department now annually welcomes the spring season, treating visitors to a botanical, cultural and community spectacle and is held in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in addition to San Francisco. 

On Dec. 19, 1994, Federated Department Stores, Inc. (now known as Macy's, Inc.) acquired R.H. Macy & Co., creating the world's largest premier department store company.

Macy's now serves customers through more than 800 stores in virtually every major geographic market in the United States, as well as the website." (from

"Born in 1863, Richard Warren Sears was an American merchant who developed his mail-order jewelry business into the huge retail company Sears, Roebuck. Capitalizing on new shipping options, Sears catered to rural customers anxious to purchase necessary items, but unable to travel to retail stores. His famed catalogs earned Sears a reputation as one of America's foremost promotional geniuses.

Sear’s entrepreneurial flair was obvious when he was only 17 and working as a station agent for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway. When a local jeweler refused a watch shipment, Sears sold the watches by offering them to other station agents at a low price. With his $5,000 profit, Sears started a mail-order watch business in Minneapolis in 1886, under the name of R.W. Sears Watch Company.

Within a year he had hired Alvah C. Roebuck as a watch repairman and moved his business to Chicago. In 1887 Sears published a mail-order catalog offering watches, diamonds, and jewelry, all with a money-back guarantee. Two years later he sold his business for $100,000 and moved to Iowa, intending to be a rural banker.

Restless, however, he returned to Minnesota and established a new mail-order firm selling watches and jewelry, with Roebuck as his partner. This A.C. Roebuck & Company later became Sears, Roebuck and Company and in 1893 moved to Chicago.

By 1893 the company's mail-order catalog had 196 pages advertising a wide variety of goods, including sewing machines, saddles, bicycles, shoes, and musical instruments. By 1894 the catalog had expanded to 507 pages, written almost entirely by Sears. Sears also wrote all the copy for the company's extensive newspaper and magazine advertisements.

He had a talent for appealing to the company's predominantly rural, Midwestern customers. He experimented with ideas constantly, first writing the copy, then trying to locate a producer after the orders had started flowing in.

In 1895 Roebuck sold his interest in the firm to Julius Rosenwald, who provided badly needed administrative skills that proved a successful complement to Sears's creative marketing. While Sears's catalogs brought in orders, Rosenwald reorganized the business, speeding up the customer service system. Unfortunately, as the result of a disagreement over the advertising budget, Sears resigned as president in 1909. He thereafter lived on his farm, north of Chicago." (from

"In 1876, George Dayton built a six-story building in downtown Minneapolis and convinced the Reuben Simon Goodfellow Company to move its Goodfellows department store into the location. Goodfellow retired and sold his interest in the store to Dayton. The store's name was changed to the Dayton Dry Goods Company in 1903, later being changed to the Dayton Company in 1911.

While working for the Dayton company, John F. Geisse developed the concept of upscale discount retailing, and became the founder of Target from concept to large discount chain. On May 1, 1962 the Dayton Company, using Geisse's concepts, opened its first Target discount store in Roseville, MN.

The name "Target" originated from Dayton's publicity director, Stewart K. Widdess, and was intended to prevent consumers from associating the new discount store chain with the department store. The new subsidiary, Target Stores, ended its first year with four units, all in Minnesota. Target Stores lost money in its initial years, but reported its first gain in 1965, with sales reaching $39 million

Today, the Target Corporation is the second-largest discount department store retailer in the United States, behind Walmart." (from Wikipedia)

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