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A photograph of Bloomingdale's Lexington Avenue Store in Manhattan

The Bloomingdale Brothers: Biography

Image Credit: DW labs Incorporated / | Above: Bloomingdale's Lexington Avenue Store in Manhattan, New York in 2011

Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale were not the pioneers of the American department store concept, they simply took the model and did it bigger.

The brothers began with a Ladies Notion Shop and then opened their store, Bloomingdale Brothers Great East Side Bazaar, on 56th Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan, in 1872. It was a risky location, situated in a working class district far from the main shopping district. The first day’s takings were $3.68.

At that time, most shops were specialist boutiques, but the Bloomingdales’ concept was to sell a variety of women’s fashions behind one facade. The brothers recognised America’s growing love of imported European goods and they quickly set up a buying office in Paris.

Their international collection was associated with the ‘beautiful people’ of American society, the image became self-perpetuating, and Bloomingdale's became an international shopping landmark, the Paris office becoming the seed of a global network.

By 1929 the store covered an entire city block and was completely redesigned as a coherent store by architects Starret and Van Vleck in the Art Deco style. The store weathered the Great Depression and World War II.

In 1949, Bloomingdale's inaugurated its first branch store in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens. Over 25,000 people came through the store on opening day.

In 1961, the company started marketing itself with designer shopping bags to promote its 'Esprit de France' exhibit. The design by artist Joseph Kingstein was a reproduction of French tarot cards in dramatic shades of red, black, and white. The iconic 'Brown Bag' debuted a decade later in 1973.

By the 1970's, everyone was stopping by 59th Street and Lexington Avenue for a look - including Queen Elizabeth. People came to see and to be seen. Once there, they were dazzled by the cutting-edge fashion of designers like Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Norma Kamali, who got their first truly big opportunities at Bloomingdale's.

From the late 80's to the present, the economy and retailing changed - thus changing the buying habits of consumers. As usual, Bloomingdale's kept up with the times, and prepared for future trends and consumer tastes.

Bloomingdale's currently operates 31 stores in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, California, Nevada and Georgia.