Bloomingdale's owes it all to the hoop skirt. In 1861, brothers Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale started peddling the high-end fashionable women's wear at their Ladies Notions Shop on Manhattan’s lower East Side. Their pop, Benjamin, a Bavarian-born salesman, meanwhile, sold the same along the Eastern Seaboard.
As the hoop's popularity deflated, the brothers opened an East Side Bazaar in 1872 in a row house on Third Avenue & 56th Street, selling ladies’ skirts, corsets, gent’s furnishings and European fashions.
At the time the East Side was a working-class neighborhood with shantytowns and stockyards, thus most of their competitors and customers were based on the Upper West Side.
The Bloomingdale boys were obviously ahead of their time. Within a few years, the Metropolitan Museum and St. Patrick’s Cathedral arrived, while Central Park was completed and the New York subway was beginning construction. All of this brought posh clientele to the East Side, who built grand brownstones facing the new park.
By 1886, the bros moved their store to its current location on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, with large plate windows and graciously open merch areas. And instead of the typical practice of packing display windows with an assortment of goods, they decorated each with a theatrical mise-en-scène focal display, often displaying European imports. Go, girls!
Fast forward to 1900: Aided by its location at the hub of a horse-drawn trolley system, Bloomingdale's was a sensation. Offerings ranged from ladies stockings at 10¢ a pair to $10 men’s wool suits and $149 upright pianos. In 1913, the 58th Street subway station opened right to Bloomie's basement, allowing it to add to the building until it covered an entire city block by 1929s, coherently redesigned in the Art Deco style.
In 1930, Bloomingdale’s joined Federated Department Stores—which also commandeered Abraham & Strauss (our NYC Vintage Department store for Wednesday, July 13), Filene's and Lazarus. The next step for Bloomingdale's was suburban expansion. In 1949, its first branch opened in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens; 25,000 people shopped at the store on opening day. As the department store continued to evolve into a chain, it created its iconic "Brown Bag" in 1972. In 1978, the Bloomingdale’s By Mail catalog launched. Fashion designers Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Norma Kamali all became famous by first merchandising at Bloomingdale's.
Some 150 years later, Bloomingdale's currently operates 40 stores in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, California, Nevada and Georgia. Oh, and there's one more: In February 2010, Bloomingdale's opened its first store outside of the U.S., in the United Arab Emirates faux-Americanized territory of Dubai. I would certainly call that نجاح