Ohrbach's

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Ohrbach's
Company typeDepartment store
IndustryRetail
Founded1923
Defunct1987
FateMerged into Steinbach after Amcena acquired Steinbach
HeadquartersNew York, New York
ProductsClothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares.
ParentAmcena

Ohrbach's was a moderate-priced department store with a merchandising focus primarily on clothing and accessories. From its modest start in 1923 until the chain's demise in 1987, Ohrbach's expanded dramatically after World War II, and opened numerous branch locations in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. Its original flagship store was located on Union Square in New York City. It maintained administrative offices in Newark and in Los Angeles. The retailer closed the Newark offices in the 1970s. Paul László designed the Union Square store as well as many of their other stores.

History[edit]

Ohrbach's first store opened on October 4, 1923, in the fire-damaged building where Adolph Zukor operated the world's first nickelodeon.[1] Founder Nathan M. Ohrbach launched his store with partner Max Wiesen, a dress manufacturer. After a time there was a dispute between the partners. Wiesen refused to sell so Ohrbach leased quarters nearby to open a second store thus forcing Wiesen to sell.[2]

Sale policies[edit]

When Ohrbach opened his store, he believed in cutting service to the bare essentials and sharing the savings with his customers. He also priced his goods in even numbers, while most of his competitors priced their goods in odd prices. Wiesen brought women's ready-to-wear in the form of job lots, seconds, manufacturer's overstock and irregulars. Ohrbach sold these in large volume at low prices. After buying Wiesen's interest in 1928, he added men's and children's furnishings and accessories. He started to “trade up” his women's wear and offer higher style garments. Other policies formalized at this time were: no price advertising, minimal sales force, no alterations, no deliveries, cash and carry and no special sales periods.[3]

Expansion to California[edit]

The growth of the fashion industry in California encouraged the company's expansion to the state. The firm utilized the services of a buying office in Los Angeles as early as 1939, and by 1945 opened its own. In 1948, it leased three floors and the mezzanine in a wing of the Welton Becket– William Wurdeman designed Prudential Insurance Company building on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile.

The success of the Miracle Mile store led the firm to open another branch in Downtown Los Angeles when it acquired the twelve-story Milliron's building at 312 W. 5th St., corner of Broadway in August 1953. At the time, Broadway was approaching the end of its decades-long status as ground zero for mid- to upscale department store shopping for the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with the huge square-block flagship stores of Bullock's, The Broadway, May Co. and nearby, Robinson's, and suburban malls barely having launched. The store underwent a $1,000,000 remodel by Welton Becket, architect, and reopened in November 1953 as Ohrbach's-Downtown.[4] Ohrbach's closed its branch and sold the building in 1959.[5] The building still exists and consists of loft condominium (Shybary Grand Lofts, 312 W. Fifth St.) with retail on the ground floor.[6]The success at this branch was short-lived. It first closed five floors as an economic move, and in 1959 closed the branch because of poor results.

On November 3, 1962, it opened its third L.A.-area store in the Gateway Cities, at La Mirada Shopping Center, measuring 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2).[7][8][9]

In 1964, Ohrbach's opened a 104,000-square-foot (9,700 m2) store in the San Fernando Valley's Panorama City Shopping Center (the building is now occupied by the Valley Indoor Swap Meet.[10][11] In 1965, the Miracle Mile store was relocated in the former Seibu Department Store at Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue. This is the current location of the Petersen Automotive Museum.[12]

Ohrbach's was an anchor of the Los Cerritos Center in Cerritos, in the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, the company opened another store in the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California. The architecture of the Cerritos and Glendale store featured an unusual tile façade to identify Ohrbach's in these new large malls.

Ohrbach's supplied clothing for the television soap operas The Edge Of Night, All My Children, Dark Shadows, The Doctors, the short-lived weekly drama Coronet Blue, comedies Mister Ed, I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show, and others.

Later history[edit]

In 1954, Ohrbach's moved from its Union Square location to West 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues across from the Empire State Building. The eleven-story building was formerly occupied by McCreery's Department Stores. In 1962, the Netherlands based Brenninkmeyer Company bought an interest in the firm and increased its ownership until Nathan Ohrbach retired in 1965 and it obtained complete control.[13] In 1967, they opened their first suburban New Jersey store at The Bergen Mall.[14]

Ohrbach's was one of five anchor stores located in downtown Newark, New Jersey during the last half of the 20th century. Following race rioting in July 1967, business declined at downtown stores, and conditions continued to worsen during the early 1970s. In 1973, Ohrbach's announced that it would close its store in Newark following the Christmas shopping season of that year. The store closed in January 1974 following a liquidation sale, and the remaining corporate offices located on the 5th and 6th floors of the Newark building relocated to space at the 34th Street store. The company's credit operations, also headquartered in the Newark building were moved to space in the firm's Bergen Mall location. At the time of Ohrbach's departure the other department stores operating in Newark stated they were still committed to downtown, but they began closing in 1976. By 1992, the last remaining firm, Macy's/Bamberger's , shuttered its downtown location.

In June 1986, Brenninkmeyer's Amcena (renamed American Retail Group in 1994) acquired Howland-Steinbach from Supermarkets General Corp and announced the shuttering of all six California locations as well as Ohrbach's flagship store on 34th Street. The remaining five stores, plus one unit under construction in the Smith Haven Mall reopened under the Steinbach banner on February 1, 1987.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ferry, John William (1960). A History of the Department Store. New York: Macmillan. pp. 80–81.
  2. ^ Mahoney, Tom; Sloane, Leonard (1974). The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. New York: Harper & Row. p. 331. ISBN 978-0-0601-2739-8. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  3. ^ Mahoney 1974, p. 329.
  4. ^ "Thousands at opening of new Ohrbach store". Los Angeles Times. December 1, 1953. p. 18.
  5. ^ "Ohrbach's Downtown Store Building Sold", The Los Angeles 'Times', 29 Apr 1959, Page 28
  6. ^ 1950's American Style: A Reference Guide, p.38, Daniel Niemeyer
  7. ^ "Advertisement for Ohrbach's". Los Angeles Times. September 9, 1962. p. 17.
  8. ^ "Ohrbach's To Build Department Store in Panorama City Center". Valley Times (North Hollywood, California). January 9, 1964.
  9. ^ Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Page 320. New York: Harper & Row, 1974 ISBN 0-06-012739-2
  10. ^ "Ohrbach's To Build Department Store in Panorama City Center". Valley Times. North Hollywood, California. January 9, 1964.
  11. ^ Mahoney 1974, p. 338.
  12. ^ Roderick, Kevin; Lynxwiler, J. Eric (July 9, 2013). Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 140, 143. ISBN 978-1-6258-4635-8.
  13. ^ Hendrickson, Robert (1979). The Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History of American's Great Department Stores. New York: Stein and Day. p. 445. ISBN 978-0-8128-2516-9.
  14. ^ "Ohrbach's Plans First New Jersey Unit in Bergen Mall". The New York Times. May 24, 1966. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
  15. ^ Gellene, Denise (June 18, 1986). "Orhrbach's Chain to Fold, Including 6 Southland Stores". Los Angeles Times. p. D1. Retrieved June 29, 2022.