Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NYC Image Of The Day: Downtown BK's Martin's Department Store

The Offerman building is a landmarked—and currently vacant—beauty of a building in the Romanesque revival style at 505-513 Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Its life began in 1890, commissioned by sugar industry mogel Henry Offerman, who owned the Brooklyn Sugar Refining Co., on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

At the time of its construction, the Offerman was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn, making it an ideal destination for a department store. The Wechsler Store operated in the space until 1897; with Darlington's Department Store scheduled to take its place in 1907, until developer Kingston Realty Co., went belly up before the location ever opened.

However, its fortunes were soon to change for the long term. Hyman Zeitz emigrated to the United States in 1882, and opened a coat and suit department in an existing blouse shop called Martin's at the corner of Fulton and Bridge Street in Brooklyn. The business grew and in 1924, he bought out the owner of Martin's and moved next door to the seven-story Offerman Building, comprising 225,000 square feet. The building offered its own electrical generator and pneumatic tube system for moving cash through the store.

As BK's downtown Fulton district flourished, Martin's ushered other major department stores to the nabe, including A.I. Namm & Son Department Store and Abraham & Straus (today, Macy's).

In the 1950s, Martin's opened additional locations in the New York suburbs: Garden City, Babylon, Suffolk County, Hackensack, N.J., and Huntington.The latter store was 75,000 square feet and offered a 500-seat community room for civic meetings, making it the largest branch store at the time.

In October 1977, with annual sales of $30 million, Martin's was sold to the Seedman Merchandising Group, operator of Times Square Stores. Obviously, they had a different vision and in 1979 closed the Fulton Street store because of "long-term unprofitability." The downtown Brooklyn shopping district, which once catered to the borough's affluent, "was no longer related to the surrounding shopping area," the company surmised.

Soon after, the remaining Martin's stores either closed or changed names, while the Offerman Building was designated a New York City Landmark in 2005. In recent times it housed job agencies, the MTA adjudication Bureau and discount retailer Conway (which moved to a shiny new location on Fulton late last year).
I walked by the Offerman building every day last summer while working for the U.S. Census Bureau and was always curious about its history. Over the Christmas 2010 holiday, the ground floor and basement served as a temporary discount emporium, which I investigated with glee numerous times.

Today, its future remains uncertain. A shorter, interconnected three-story building to the east along Bridge Street was recently demolished to make way for a shiny glass-enclosed structure to house Swedish retailer H&M's first Brooklyn location, scheduled to open in 2012. As recently as March, rumors swirled that the Offerman could be converted to upscale residential. But thus far, it waits patiently for its next life.
Below the jump, explore Martin's five floors of goodies and merchandise. (Thanks to The Department Store Museum blog.)

Lower Level
Men's Shoes
Main Floor
Fine Jewelry • Costume Jewelry • Handbags • Small Leather Goods • Gloves • Hosiery • Scarves • Accessories • Umbrellas • Cosmetics • Martell Blouses • Martell Blouses • Miss Martell Sportswear • Main Floor Lingerie • Miss Martell Shoes • Cosmetics • The Pear Tree Boutique • Gift Shop • Men's Sportswear and Furnishings • Gentlemen's Corner • Gentlemen's Boutique • Accommodation Desk
Gentlemen's Corner • 501 Shop • Boys' Shop • Beauty Salon
Second Floor
Miss Martin Dresses • Career Shop • Knit Shop • Miss Marleigh, Jr. Dresses • Contemporary Sportswear • Modern Women's Shop • Town Shop • Fashion Boutique • Corset Salon • Millinery Salon • Bridal Salon
Second Floor Arcade
Cotton Shop • Martell Dresses • Lady Martin Dresses
Third Floor
Coat Salon • Suite Salon • Rain 'n Shine Shop • Leather Shop • Martell Coats • Fur Salon
Fourth Floor
Girls' Shops • Girl Sprouts • Young Juniors • Children's Shops • Marteen Shoes • Moppet Shop • Teen Boutique • Robes • Foundations • Lingerie
Fifth Floor
Sportswear Elegante • Misses' Sportswear • Blouse Salon • Sweaters • Cruise Shop • The Fifth Corner
Junior-Insight Sportsear • Dresses • Coats