The Mostly Now Forgotten Franklin Simon & Co. Main Street Store

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The Mostly Now Forgotten Franklin Simon & Co. Main Street Store

Journeys into Hackensack

It was once one of Hackensack’s most popular department stores. Today it is mostly forgotten – barely chronicled in local history and completely omitted by a website that speaks of the chain’s history.

The store is Franklin Simon and it was located at the northeast corner of Main and Berry Streets. Along with nearby Arnold Constable, it was the foundation of merchandising in that section of Main Street – the heart of the area between the movie theaters (The Fox and The Oritani) and the YMCA. It was situated directly across the street from Cowan’s Sporting Goods.

Franklin Simon & Co. was a department store based in New York City. It was unique for its time as it was conceived as a collection of specialty shops rather than a traditional department store. Each "shop" had a specialty like those that sold ready-to-wear apparel for women, misses, girls, boys, men, young men and infants.

The chain was founded in February 1902, as Franklin Simon Specialty Shops by Franklin Simon (1865-1934) and his business partner Herman A. Flurscheim.

The store's stated concept was "to import much of his merchandise [from Europe] with a view to selling the imported goods as cheaply, if possible, as the domestic.

Choice of a location for his new store made Franklin Simon a pioneer in New York retailing. In 1902 shopping clustered in the Ladies Mile stretch of 6th Ave. from 14th St. up to 23rd St. While others predicted the imminent movement of business up Broadway (Macy's, for instance, opened at Broadway and 34th St. in 1902), Simon foresaw the area of 5th Ave. north of 34th St. as the future of fashionable shopping. "Mr. Simon bought the home of Mrs. Orme Wilson, sister of the late John Jacob Astor, at 414 Fifth Avenue" (quoting New York Times, 5 Oct. 1934 p. 23) and opened his store there.

In 1936, the chain was purchased by Atlas Corporation from the Simon family for $2 million, and then in In 1945, Franklin Simon & Co. was acquired by City Stores Company of Philadelphia. Oppenheim, Collins & Co. merged with Franklin Simon, but the two chains continued to operate under separate trade names and as separate divisions under the newly formed City Specialty Stores. Eventually in 1961/1962, City Stores changed the name of the Oppenheim, Collins & Co. stores to Franklin Simon.

City Stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 1979. Under the reorganization plan, City Stores closed the 42 Franklin Simon stores.

The main store was established in 1903, at 414 Fifth Avenue at 38th Street, the former home of Mrs. Orme Wilson, sister of John Jacob Astor. It was the first big Fifth Avenue store above 34th Street. The store closed in 1977. The 280,000-square-foot building later became the flagship store of W. & J. Sloane, another subsidiary of City Stores.

In 1932, Franklin Simon & Co. opened its first branch store in Greenwich, Connecticut. According to a history of Franklin Simon, other early branch locations were at Westport, Connecticut, on the Boston Post Road, near the intersection of South Compo Road, and Manhasset, New York (on Long Island). This history added that there were also stores in the Green Acres Shopping Center in Valley Stream, New York, Central Avenue in East Orange, New Jersey, and the Livingston Mall, in Livingston, New Jersey. Founder Franklin Simon also operated a resort shop at Palm Beach, Florida in 1932. Branch stores also operated in the Buffalo, New York area. When the chain closed in 1979, there were 42 stores.

But this history makes no mention of the Hackensack store.

This we do personally know: The Hackensack store, like the others, specialized in women’s fashions and furnishing. It drew clientele from throughout the area, and, along with Arnold Constable, offered a leisurely and sophisticated shopping and dining option, especially during the weekday midday period.

A day’s outing could be made of visits to the department stores, the local shops on Main Street and lunch. It provided a quality, reasonably priced alternative to trips to the city or Newark.

There is a postcard of Main Street, circa 1961 for sale on the internet that includes part of Franklin Simon (as well as the Fox and Oritani Theaters, Cowan’s and the recently demolished Oritani Savings Bank building).

As the caption states, “All gone, as people moved to suburbs and shopped at malls lot of these low-rise buildings are still there, repurposed for other businesses, Mexican and Central American restaurants, a beauty school, state offices”.

Today the Franklin Simon building is used as a supermarket. As for those other low rise buildings, increasingly many are being pulled down in the race to create Hackensack’s next vision for the future.

Info. Source: Time Storkeeping Atlas: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0%2C9171%2C848657%2C00.html; https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/4137662

Photo acknowledgement and credit: Pinterest and Jack Hoffman