ROWLAND Hussey Macy (1822-1877) was a Nantucket seaman aboard the Emily Morgan whaling ship at age 15, and while serving there he picked up at a port of call a red, five-pointed star tattoo. After a period of apprenticeship he opened four dry goods stores in the 1850s, all of which failed; undeterred, he moved to the Big Apple in 1858 and opened yet another on Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street, where sales on the first day of business came to $11.06. Obviously business has picked up since.
After a couple of decades on 6th Avenue and 14th and later, 18th Street, in 1902 Macy’s moved to a magnificent building that after several additions and acquisitions takes up nearly the entire block between Broadway, 7th Avenue, and West 34th and 35th Streets designed by architects De Lemos & Cordes.
Macy’s has grown to a retail empire consisting of seven divisions with store locations in 45 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. There are now nearly 100,000 Macy’s employees! I worked for the World’s Biggest Store from 2000-2004, during which the company celebrated 100 years on 34th Street. I was proud to be part of the organization at this time, but working in midtown disagreed with me: what a madhouse; and my immediate boss was as mean as they come (to this day, if you asked her, she’d tell you she didn’t coddle mistake-makers). I forgive, but do not forget, after over 20 years.
If you walk down West 35th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, you pass by the side of the Macy’s flagship building that turns its back on the city. This is where the loading docks are, and the expense and care given to the other three sides of the building are nowhere in evidence here…except for the red stars you see if your gaze shifts upward, in honor of the red star tattoo of Rowland Macy. Similar stars can be found at the back end of an earlier Macy building on West 13th Street just off 6th avenue in one of the buildings now occupied by the New School.
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