WANAMAKER PLACE, Cooper Square

by Kevin Walsh

A short section of East 9th Street between Broadway and Cooper Square is named for John Wanamaker (1838-1922), a Philadelphian who co-founded a men’s clothing store in 1861 and with it, the principles of one set price and full-cost returns, revolutionary at the time. In 1875 he purchased an abandoned rail depot and turned it into a department store, heavily promoting it during the Centennial celebrations in 1876. 

By 1896 Wanamaker was ready to expand into NYC and purchased a building on Broadway and West 9th that had formerly been part of the A.T. Stewart retail empire, and constructed an annex one block south. The Stewart property is gone now but the annex remains.

The former John Wanamaker Department Store Annex is one of the few NYC buildings that takes up an entire square block (Macy’s doesn’t; B. Altman, 5th Avenue and 34th Street, did). The main store was a block to the north and was demolished decades ago. It was Wanamaker who demolished five units of Colonnade Row (seen on this FNY page) to make way for a truck warehouse, which still has his name on it.

The Astor Place subway station still contains an entrance to the store — later a K-Mart (formerly Kresge’s) on the ground floor. It also has a bricked up entrance to the long-ago Clinton Hall on Astor Place.

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9/15/22

6 comments

Peter September 16, 2022 - 8:02 am

The supermarket chain Wegman’s is moving into the former Kmart space, though the opening is still a ways off.

Reply
Andy September 16, 2022 - 8:11 am

The Wanamaker company closed this store in 1956, and the building was sold to developers who eventually built a apartment building on the site. As demolition was beginning, the store building was destroyed in a spectacular and multi-alarm fire that began on July 14, 1956. The fire raged for days. Torrents of water flowed into the IRT and BMT subway stations under Fourth Avenue and Broadway, respectively. The IRT #6 train Astor Place station was flooded and the track bed was compromised, suspending all subway service on the IRT Lexington Avenue line between Grand Central and Brooklyn Bridge for nearly a week. The BMT tunnel was also flooded but not nearly as severely as the IRT.

Thankfully there were no deaths, but many firemen were injured.

Link to more information about this fire: https://yungee.com/wanamakerfire1956

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Allan Berlin September 16, 2022 - 9:50 am

Kmart closed the Astor Place store over a year ago.

I was by there about a month ago and it was still vacant.

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Kevin Walsh September 17, 2022 - 5:00 pm

Yeah, I forgot K-Marts closed.

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Doug September 16, 2022 - 2:57 pm Reply
Joe+Brennan September 16, 2022 - 8:49 pm

A biographer of Alexander T. Stewart credits him as the first to sell goods at a fixed price, well before Wanamaker. He also had men working in the women’s clothing department and women in the men’s, so that they could compliment customers, and also, because it was just business, it provided an excuse for proper people to speak with the opposite sex without introduction. That brought them in! How exciting! Those were the days.

Reply

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