If you spent the day frantically shopping at Saks, Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus* (to name a few), you’ve witnessed the amazing legacy of the 19th century influx of German Jews to America. It was not uncommon for young German Jewish immigrants to feed their families by peddling and slowly building up resources to open a store. Although this was not a uniquely Jewish story, the inordinate success of some Jewish merchants profoundly shaped American retail history.
Perhaps the greatest story of German Jewish merchandising success can be found in the history of Federated Department Stores, Inc. (Now Macy’s, Inc.). It began in three parts:
1. In 1850, Simon Lazarus arrived in Columbus, Ohio, from Wurttenberg, Germany. Although he was a scholar by nature, he opened F & R Lazarus & Co. with the assistance of his wife and sons.
2. Prussian-born William Filene came to the Boston area around 1848. In 1881, he opened Filene’s Sons and Co, which his two sons took over in 1890 and built into a merchandising empire.
3. Abraham Abraham, the son of a Bavarian immigrant, was raised in New York. In 1865, he created Abraham and Wechsler with Joseph Wechsler, who was bought out by the Strauses in 1893. The store was renamed Abraham and Straus, which was often called A & S. (The Strauses, who were from Germany, originally settled in Georgia but moved to New York after the Civil War. They started a crockery and china store in the basement of R.H. Macy’s and became partners in the store in 1888. They became the owners of Macy’s & Co in 1895 and established the Herald Square store in 1902.)
Lazarus’, Filene’s, and A & S joined together in 1929 to create Federated Department Stores, Inc. One year later, Bloomingdale’s joined them. In time, Federated became the umbrella corporation for an enormous group of stores. In 1994, Federated Department Stores, Inc. and Macy’s merged. Federated began functioning under the name of Macy’s, Inc. shortly thereafter.
*These stores, while not necessarily mentioned in the Treat, all have Jewish roots.