Bloomingdale’s: A History

Bloomingdale’s began with a 19th century fad and the extraordinary vision of two brothers. Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale pioneered nearly every major change in the evolution of department stores – if they weren’t the first with an idea, they simply did it bigger and better than anyone else. Their innovative retailing philosophy guided Bloomingdale’s in its beginning and that strategy continues today, justifiably earning Bloomingdale’s the reference “Like No Other Store in the World.”

The first retail endeavor of the Bloomingdale brothers was a Ladies’ Notion Shop in New York. In 1872, Bloomingdale’s opened and expanded their East Side Bazaar, selling a variety of women’s fashions. This was a bold move in the era of specialty shops; the Bazaar became a harbinger of the true “department store.” By 1929, Bloomingdale’s covered an entire city block.

Two years later, the glamorous Art Deco edifice that still graces Lexington Avenue was completed. In 1949, Bloomingdale’s began its real expansion, opening its first satellite store in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and by 1959, Bloomingdale’s had created a complete circle of stores around the flagship in New Jersey, Westchester County and Long Island. This dramatic growth continued in the 1970s and 1980s with the opening of stores in the Northeast, Florida and Chicago. Bloomingdale’s was on its way to becoming a true national entity. That vision culminated in 1996 with the addition of its first four stores in California, the most ambitious expansion in the company’s history, followed by Bloomingdale’s entry into the Atlanta market in 2003.

From the beginning, the Bloomingdale brothers catered to America’s love of international goods, and by the 1880s, their European selection was dazzling. A buying office in Paris in 1886 was the beginning of a network that now spans the globe. The 1960s brought promotions resulting from Bloomingdale’s fascination with the foreign market: the first was a small affair called “Casa Bella,” featuring merchandise for the home from Italy.

Over the next 30 years, the promotions took on a grand scale – including unique merchandise and cultural exhibits that would touch every department in Bloomingdale’s. Major transformation of the Bloomingdale’s image came in the 1960s and 1970s. The promotions were so exciting that the term “Retailing as Theater” was coined to describe Bloomingdale’s “happenings.” It was the era of pet rocks and glacial ice cubes, of visits by movie stars and royalty from Elizabeth Taylor to Queen Elizabeth II.

The new direction in merchandising was both to seek and to create. Buyers covered the world to find exclusive, one-of-a-kind items. When they couldn’t find what they wanted, they had it made. In fashion, Bloomingdale’s launched new designers and created boutiques for already-famous names. Among the discoveries: Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Norma Kamali – and for the first time in America: Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo and Fendi ready-to-wear. Designers opening their first in-store boutiques at Bloomingdale’s include Yves St. Laurent, Calvin Klein, Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler.

In 1961, Bloomingdale’s made retail history in yet another area by introducing the first designer shopping bag. Artist Joseph Kinigstein was commissioned to create a bag for the “Esprit de France” promotion. Rather than doing the obvious – ladylike flowers in pastel colors – he reproduced antique French tarot cards in bold red, black and white. Most daring of all, the bag omitted the store name. Even so, it was unmistakably Bloomingdale’s, and the collector’s shopping bag was launched. Since then, both famous and fledgling artists, architects and ad designers have created Bloomingdale’s bags. Their designs have been featured in art museums all over the world.

In 1971 “model rooms,” a highlight of Bloomingdale’s since 1947, gained worldwide attention. “The Cave,” an intricate multi-level frame sprayed entirely in white polyurethane, was a spectacular example of the lengths to which Bloomingdale’s would go to make a statement of style. Over the years, the model rooms have been showcases for the talents of everyone from architect Frank Gehry to filmmaker Federico Fellini.

During the 1970s, Bloomingdale’s was a favorite stop of the international avant-garde, epitomized locally by the “Young East Sider” who lived right in the neighborhood. In 1973, the store wanted to stamp the Bloomingdale’s name on panties to launch an intimate apparel promotion; they chose the company nickname as a nod to the young, trendy crowd, and the “Bloomie’s” logo was born. Soon, New Yorkers were affectionately referring to the city’s second most popular tourist attraction after the Statue of Liberty as “Bloomie’s” and the hottest souvenir in town was anything emblazoned with “Bloomie’s.” From the late 1980s to the present, the economy and retailing has changed – thus changing the buying habits of consumers. As usual, Bloomingdale’s kept up with the times and prepared for the future. Today, there is an increased emphasis on building customer service and relationships, while continuing the unique and exclusive aspects that made Bloomingdale’s world famous.

With a reputation for quality, creativity and uniqueness, Bloomingdale’s has remained at the forefront of retailing worldwide. Bloomingdale’s speaks to its customers in a language they understand: service, selection and fashion, making Bloomingdale’s “Like No Other Store in the World.”