A Store from Hackensack’s Past – Arnold Constable
Journeys into Hackensack
Decades ago, downtowns were real town centers, not the “Town Centre” of strip malls and shopping centers along highways and party of sub and ex-urban sprawl.
Hackensack was once such a town center – it was the crossroads of Bergen County.
We have posted here about the movie palaces, the courthouse and the longstanding role of Hackensack Hospital. We have also mentioned the many family-owned business that comprised the heart and soul of Main Street.
But back in the mid-20th century, Main Street was also a hub for a number of department stores.
The best known and still recalled remain Packard’s and Sears. But there were others.
Today we remember one – Arnold Constable.
Arnold Constable was unique in that it was a New York Department store in Hackensack .
It was a time before the Garden State Plaza and Bergen Mall. Hackensack was a nearby option for shoppers who did not want to travel to the city or Newark.
Arnold Constable & Company is believed to be the first department store in America. It was founded as a small dry goods store at 91 Front Street in lower Manhattan in 1825 by Aaron Arnold, who had immigrated to the United States from the Isle of Wight. At one point it was the oldest department store in America, operating for over 150 years from its founding in 1825 to its closing in 1975.
Arnold moved the business to a larger space on Pine Street, and took on partners, his nephews George and James Hearn, with the business being known as Arnold and Hearn until 1842, when the Hearns began their own store. James Mansell Constable was an employee of A. Arnold & Co. who would later marry Arnold's daughter, and he was taken on as a partner in 1842, with the store name changing to Arnold Constable & Company in 1853.
At the company's peak, its flagship "Palace of Trade" in Manhattan – located at 881-887 Broadway at East 19th Street, through to 115 Fifth Avenue – was acknowledged to be the store which took the largest portion of the "carriage trade", in New York, serving the rich and elite of the city, such as the wives of Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
In 1925, Arnold Constable joined with the specialty retailer Stewart & Company and expanded into the suburbs. In 1937, the first suburban branch opened in New Rochelle, New York. Later suburban expansions included locations in Hempstead and Manhasset on Long Island, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and in New Jersey, including Hackensack. Most branch stores were in downtown areas, often in small shopping centers. There were 11 to 12 American stores in the 1960s before business declined, a victim of the growth of malls over standalone stores. Eventually, the 10 suburban branches closed.
According to a New York Times article of the period, the Hackensack store opened in 1946.
It would become and remain a fixture until its closing 25 years later – just around the time that Bergen Mall became enclosed and just before the opening of Paramus Park.
To some Arnold Constable was known as a “ladies store” – one local recalls the smell of perfume throughout the store. The place was famous for its restaurant upstairs that served a luncheon that rivaled those to be found at the big department stores in the city.
These days the building still stands – home to the Hackensack campus of Bergen Community College – after being County offices for a spell.
In a changing Hackensack, the building’s façade provides a positive and soothing memory to those still around who remember the place from 5 to 8 decades ago.
Background Info: The Department Store Museum.org: http://www.thedepartmentstoremuseum.org/2011/08/arnold-constable-co-new-york-city-new.html; Also: http://www.hackensacknow.org/index.php?topic=945.0
Image Credit: Martha Sazlay Scannell via Pinterest