Some Facts About Siegel Cooper – The Big Store 1898
Siegel-Cooper Department Store has been gone for over 100 years. But in 1898, Henry Siegel and Frank H. Cooper’s emporium was the Amazon of its day.
In the 1890s Siegel and Cooper successfully operated a department store in Chicago before setting their sights on an expansion in New York.
What Siegel, the driving force of the concern, conceived in New York was not just a department store, it was the “Big Store.” The Siegel-Cooper Department Store was built on Sixth Avenue between 18th and 19th streets. It was a great location, then being New York’s primary shopping district known as the “Ladies Mile.” Within a half mile stretch of Sixth Avenue between 14th and 23rd Streets could be found the giants of retailing including Macy’s; Altman’s; Hugh O’Neill’s; Adam’s Dry Goods;, Ehrich Brothers; and Simpson, Crawford & Simpson.
The Siegel-Cooper Big Store building opened on September 12, 1896 and was an instant smash with the public.
Siegel-Cooper provided the nineteenth century shopper with a incredible array of goods, from abdominal bands to zephyrs and everything in between. Perhaps the most unusual article available for sale was “Baby”, a live, baby female elephant. Baby was sold within two weeks of the store’s opening for $2,000.
Obligingly in 1898 Siegel-Cooper published a booklet, not only as a guide to New York but for promoting its own store. Over 90 of its 218 pages are devoted to describing the store. This is one of the rare gems of my New York City collection. The introduction floridly lays out what the visitor should expect.
Nowhere else in the world can one view an area of 15 1/2 acres, or nearly 750,000 square feet, loaded with the finest merchandise that money can purchase, and that within the four walls of one building.
A man, woman, or child may wander all day through the wide aisles of this magnificent temple of commerce, examining the myriad products of human industry, and this without being importuned to purchase. He or she is the welcome guest of the Siegel-Cooper Company, and expressly for the guidance of such visitors has this booklet been prepared.
After covering the Big Store’s virtues and goods for sale, the booklet contains some facts to ponder:
MISCELLANEOUS, CURIOUS, and INTERESTING STATISTICS
The Big Store cost over Four Millions of Dollars to build. Its goods and fittings cost nearly Two Million Dollars more. The approximate value of merchandise in the store is two million dollars. Over one million and a quarter dollars is annually paid in salaries to the employees of the store. There are 68 departments, the aggregate sales of which annually reach into many millions of dollars. The Big Store regularly employs 3.100 persons, so that at the moderate estimate of 4 persons in each employee’s family, over 12,000 persons are in a way dependent on the store. In the holiday season there are over 4,500 employees. The parcels sent out average 15,000 daily. It is estimated that 120,000 people on an average visit the store daily. At Christmas this number is more than doubled.
After the turn-of-the-century the Siegel-Cooper business underwent a series of acquisitions and mergers. Eventually it was renamed Greenhut – Siegel – Cooper Co., coming under the direction of Captain Joseph B. Greenhut, another Chicago merchant prince.
After giving up the Big Store, Henry Siegel would go on to control the 14th Street Store and Simpson-Crawford with his business partner Frank E. Vogel. In 1914, Siegel and Vogel were indicted for Grand Larceny in a failed banking scheme. Siegel’s stores closed its doors on March 14, 1914 and all 2,100 employees were let go.
In the competitive and perilous world of retailing, the former Siegel-Cooper Big Store would last just a little over two decades.
Though Siegel had nothing to do with The Big Store since 1901, the ripple effect of Siegel’s 1914 indictment and business failure affected the Greenhut Company. Greenhut dropped Siegel-Cooper from its branding in May 1914 but the writing was on the wall.
The war was affecting commerce and the other area retailers had closed or moved further uptown. The Big Store announced on March 6 ,1918 they would be closing forever.
Siegel-Cooper’s Big Store building still stands on Sixth Avenue with many modifications and subdivisions. Primary retail tenants include Bed, Bath and Beyond, Marshall’s, and T.J. Maxx.
If you look up at the stonework of the building, the interlocking S&C of Siegel-Cooper can still be seen in many places. A vague marker that this building was something grander than a T.J Maxx.