NYC - Harlem: Blumstein's Department Store

    Newer Older

    Arriving from Germany in 1895 and starting out as a street peddler, Louis Blumstein opened his first store in Hudson Street in 1894, before moving the store to West 125th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, four years later. After Blumstein's death in 1920, his family demolished the store and replaced it with a $1 million, five-storey building designed by , designed by Robert D. Kohn and Charles Butler with an odd mix of late Art Nouveau and early Art Deco in 1923.

    A growing African American population in the area in the 1920s wasn't reflected by the store's employees. It wasn't until 1929 that the store hired its first African Americans, and then only in lowly jobs like elevator operators and porters. In 1932, J. Dalman Steele, called for a boycott of such companies, but his call was ineffective. In the spring of 1934, as more New Yorkers lost jobs because of the Depression, the Rev. John H. Johnson, vicar of the Protestant Episcopal St. Martin's Church, began a "Buy-Where-You-Can-Work" campaign, backed by The New York Age newspaper which noted that 75% of Blumstein's sales were to African Americans but the company refused to employ them as clerks or cashiers. A high profile boycott was called, with William Blumstein finally capitulating in July and pledging to hire 35 Africna Americans in clerical and sales positions by the end of September - a decision that attracted a 1,500-strong victory parade.

    Blumstein's went on to have the first Afrcan American Santa Claus in 1943, became the first company to use black models and mannequins, and was the first to use black models and mannequins and successfully appealed to cosmetic manufacturers to produce make-up for non-white skin tones. For years its mechanical black Santa Claus was a Christmas fixture on 125th Street

    Sold off by the family in 1976, The Blumstein building is now owned by Parkseen Realty Associates, with the main floor broken up into separate stores.

    1. Dan_DC 64 months ago | reply

      Thanks for posting this... it's interesting that the old vertical Blumstein sign is still up. Great shot!

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Artifacts and Holdovers, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    2. Anita Scott 62 months ago | reply

      Thanks for posting this...I am an african american and I remember when my Aunt was working in that store. So much history is in that store. Do you know thats where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed in that dept. store. Just reading about blumstein took me back to my childhood...thank:)

    3. Anita Scott 62 months ago | reply

      Thanks for posting this...I am an african american and I remember when my Aunt was working in that store. So much history is in that store. Do you know thats where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed in that dept. store. Just reading about blumstein took me back to my childhood days...thank:)

    4. The Blue Collar Goddess 54 months ago | reply

      We're using this shot in a story that I think will truly interest you and your historical meanderings. You've got a great eye, and a great heart.
      The story will go live November 16, 2009 and in our print version for December. Thank you!
      www.thefrontview.com/

    5. zoey12345 26 months ago | reply

      Wow I heard many stories about Blumensteins. My sister Fran is named after our Aunt Fannie Blumstein! I was just out of high school when my grandmother and other relatives met and decided to give up the property. They were pretty upset about it. The history here is very interesting and I'm glad it is being documented.

    6. Shelley413 8 months ago | reply

      Hi...great shot.....my maiden name is Blumstein

    7. KONPHIDENT KEV 4 months ago | reply

      Trying to understand how did Louis arrive here in 1895, but he opened the store on Hudson Street in 1894...

    keyboard shortcuts: previous photo next photo L view in light box F favorite < scroll film strip left > scroll film strip right ? show all shortcuts