It’s Santa’s fault!
Brooklyn’s beloved A&S became a Macy’s instead of keeping its iconic moniker because St. Nicholas himself made the Manhattan department store a household name in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” a historian announced on the latest edition of Brooklyn Paper Radio.
Author and oboist Michael Lisicky told host and Brooklyn Paper editor-in-chief Vince DiMiceli that if not for the Natalie Wood movie, the A&S name could have been plastered across America instead of ending up on the scrapheap of American retail.
“It all goes back to the movie you loved so much as a kid,” Lisicky told DiMiceli on the show. “Because of that, people wanted Macy’s to come to town, and not A&S.”
In fact, A&S was sitting on the top of the food chain at Federated Department Stores when that company bought Macy’s, and the rest, as they say in the business, is history.
Soon after, the store loved so much by the likes of Brooklyn newspaper tycoon Ed Weintrob (another guest on the show) became just a footnote in the retail history books.
But for more than 100 years, Abraham and Straus, as it was officially called, anchored Brooklyn’s Downtown shopping district along Fulton Street. In its heyday in the 1940s, the store employed more than 2,400 full-timers (who enjoyed a card room, gymnasium, hospital, and employee library) and welcomed an average of 70,000 customers a day.
For years, Brooklynites eschewed Macy’s and Gimbels on the other side of the river in favor of the Brooklyn-born behemoth, where they could buy clothes, liquor, ice cream, appliances, and even have dinner in its fifth-floor restaurant.
They even had a song they sang to cheer their department store over the one founded by R.H. Macy — and later by the same clan that ran A&S before a family squabble split the two stores up.
“I won’t go to Macy’s any more, more more, ’cause there’s a big fat policeman at the door door door,” DiMiceli, whose grandmother only shopped at what many in Brooklyn called “A&S’s” recalled. “He’ll pull you by the collar, and make you pay a dollar, so I won’t go to Macy’s any more more more.”
The Downtown A&S remained the flagship of a retail empire that featured stores in Long Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and even one in Manhattan.
Lisicky’s new book “Abraham and Straus: It’s Worth the Trip from Anywhere” chronicles the store’s history from its beginnings as Abraham and Wechler’s to its transition to Macy’s in the early 1990s.
But the author, who’s also written about Gimbels, Filene’s, Bamberger’s and Wanamaker’s among others, was happy to learn the newly refurbished Macy’s on Fulton Street, though much smaller than its predecessor, is still there.
“You have something to be proud of in Brooklyn,” he said. “Downtown department stores are going away, and you still have one.”
Brooklyn Paper radio is recorded and podcast live almost every Tuesday at 3:30 pm — for your convenience — from our studio in America’s Downtown and can be found, as always, on Brook