Remembering Furchgott's Department Store

January 6, 2011 62 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look into the past of one of downtown's most blighted sore spots: The former Furchgott's Department Store building.



A Jacksonville Retail Institution



Furchgott's Inc. was established by Leo Furchgott in 1868.  During the company's early years, it was known as Kohn-Furchgotts and was located at the intersection of Bay & Main Streets.  Under the leadership of company president Frederick Meyerheim, Furchgott's went through a period of growth that called for a major expansion of their upscale downtown department store, which was known for its designer departments.



The Post Office Building


The Post Office Building being demolished for Furchgott's in 1940.

To accommodate this growth, the impressive and towering marble post office building would be demolished to make way for a new 60,000 square foot, six level Art Deco department store designed by Marsh and Saxelbye Architects. Harold Meyerheim would take the place of his father as company president in 1945.  


Left: Basement; Right: First Floor (Street level)

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First Floor

In 1941, Furchgott's opened a new mercantile building on the southeast corner of Adams & Hogan, one block south of Hemming Park.  It occupied the former spot of the wonderful old marble post office.  Floor by floor, a Furchgott brochure from the Forties furnished details about the "scientifically-designed" structure, specially created for your shopping pleasure & convenience.  The first story really didn't offer any radical surprises, though.  According to the brochure, "It's a floor that is as typically American as 'cheese and apple pie.'" Buyers there could examine such diverse items as tuxedos, topcoats, diamonds, silverware, costume jewelry, gloves, neckwear, lingerie, umbrellas, gifts, and pens & pencils.  Patrons could also frequent a "hat bar" and a rental library.
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Page One.htm

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Basement

When frugal Furchgott shoppers descended "far below the street level," they found a place where "the prices are low and bargains universal."  During the Forties, basement items included curtains, blankets, corsets, girdles, cotton goods, men's work clothes, and uniforms for nurses and maids.

An added attraction was the basement delivery room!  Explained the store brochure, "Here one may view the delivery chute. Packages for delivery or mail are sent from any of the five floors down the spiral chute where they empty into a tunnel that slightly resembles a dairy silo.  From this point they go to the delivery room, where merchandise for delivery or mailing purposes is held."

As thrilling as delivery rooms can be, the basement's excitement level probably increased a notch after Furchgott's closed.  In recent years, the basement housed a club, The Milk Bar, named after a drinking establishment in the shocking movie "A Clockwork Orange."  Jacksonville's The Milk Bar featured live bands playing alternative music, often with mosh pits.  The venue was credited with helping to launch Limp Bizkit, the mega-popular group from the River City.  The Milk Bar or Paradome Club eventually evolved into another nightspot called 618, located on Forsyth Street in La Villa.
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Basement.htm



Left: Second Floor; Right: Third Floor

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Second Floor

The thing that caught your eye in Furchgott's second floor was the round room.  Boasted the store,  "Basically the design of the women's ready-to-wear department might be said to resemble a historic Queen Ann's drawing room, for it is housed in a circular room.  Clothes of unusual quality, designed by renowned creators, are shown for discriminating women of taste."

Patrons could also browse through other 2nd floor merchandise, including shoes, sportswear, negligees, and junior clothing.  This level also contained a fur salon, a women's lounge, and an alteration department.  "Not to be forgotten either is the Brides Room, where complete trousseaux may be selected in quiet seclusion."
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Second Level.htm

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Third Floor

A variety of items drew shoppers to Furchgott's third level.  According to the store brochure from the late Forties, "The third floor should be of unusual interest to Jacksonville men and women with growing families.  Here special emphasis is laid on children's wardrobes -- from the tiny crawler to the football kicker age.  On this floor are boys furnishings, boys prep clothing, toys, luggage, radios, records, and sheet music.  Likewise of special significance is the large infants' department where clothes and furniture are found.  The direct east side of the floor may be termed as 'women's territory,' for here is a cotton dress department, budget dress department, teenage dress department, and children's dress department.  Needless to say, there are adequate dressing rooms throughout."
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Third Floor.htm



Left: Third Floor; Right: Fifth Floor

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Fourth Floor

"Where Shopping Is a Pleasure"?  Furchgott's Department Store pretty much claimed this during the Forties.  Listen to how it described its fourth level: "Characterized by the cumulation of affiliated departments, the fourth floor makes shopping almost as pleasant as a pastime to the Furchgott customer.  Here such necessities as bedding, rugs, lamps, linens, and notions are found in numerous assortments.  Directly in the northwest corner of the floor is an unusually imposing drapery department. Here at all times is a decorator inspired drapery show room, where the latest trends in home furnishings are displayed, and where expert advice is offered.  The woman who sews will find a complete department of rayons, acetates, and cotton fabrics from the foremost fabric mills."  The floor also offered pictures, mirrors, venetian blinds, a closet shop, and a shower shop.
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Fourth Floor.htm

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Fifth Floor

During the Forties, the top level of Furchgott's proved to be "the mainspring of the entire store." As the Furchgott brochure explained, "On this floor you'll find behind-the-scene specialists whose job is to make the entire organization function smoothly and efficiently."  The floor's occupants included the layaway department, an upholstery workroom, and a display workroom, along with offices for credit, employment, advertising, and the store's executives.  Other features included a "hospital room," an employee's recreation terrace, and the staff restrooms.
Source: http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Page One.htm



For a while, Furchgott's also occupied the street level storefronts of the Professional Building.  Today, the matching storefront elements that visually tied the buildings together still remains.

Still squeezed for space, the store would expand to include the street level frontage of the historic Professional Office Building next door in 1957.  Following the suburbanation of Jacksonville, Furchgott's would go on to open additional stores in Roosevelt Square Mall (1961), Regency Square Mall (1967) and Orange Park Mall (1975).



The Fall of Furchgott's



It can be said that the 1970s and 1980s were downtown Jacksonville's darkest period of the 20th century.  During the 1980s, Furchgott's became a financially troubled chain of department stores.  After 43 years of anchoring what was once downtown's most prominent retail intersection, Furchgott's would permanently shut down their 70,000 square foot flagship department store at 130 Adams Street in Spring 1984.  Furchgott's would then file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-January 1985.  Initially, Jacksonville based Stein Mart agreed to buy the company.  However this deal would fall apart when the managers of Regency Square Mall would refuse to allow Stein Mart into the mall (oh how times have changed).

Stein Mart then formed a joint venture with Body Shops of America to buy the company but were outbid by Dallas based real estate company owned by Dean Hoover on April 30, 1985.  To make that purchase, Hoover borrowed money from Regency Square's owners, Schroder Center Management, Inc. of Dallas.  One week later, on May 8, 1985, the three remaining Furchgott's stores in Regency, Roosevelt Square and Orange Park Malls would abruptly close their doors for good, putting the final nail in the coffin of Jacksonville's oldest department store after 116 years of continuous operation.


130 Adams Street Today



26 years have passed since the flagship downtown store shut down.  Since that time, the basement of the store has been used for a variety of things including a fitness center (1986), the Milk Bar (19??) and currently De Real Ting Cafe.  In recent years, the street level spaces include Pizza Italiano, Redd Cafe, Zodiac Grill and Natasha's Tailoring.  

"It will be nice to have a bookstore, I think people will enjoy that and I think everybody will be excited," - Natasha Zaulyanov owner of Natasha's Tailoring - FTU 3/4/2005

In 2005, the Furchgott's Building was purchased the Hudson Book Company for $2 million.  Primarily an Internet and wholesale book business, at the time, Hudson announced plans to open a first floor retail book shop and use the remaining floors as a warehouse to store books.  Last year, the building was available for purchase for the sum of $3.2 million.




It doesn't appear that this building has been painted since the store closed in 1984 (26 years).


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At the entrance, notice the stripes on the sidewalk, along with a fanciful "F" (inside a circle) for "Furchgott's."  It's nice that the stripes and the "F" are still visible today and that the marble still surrounds the entranceway.  The doors in the alcove lead to other businesses, though.  Through the left entrance is the Zodiac Grill (recently relocated to the Shultz Building), while through a door to the right is De Real Ting Caribbean Restaurant.  The former Zodiac Grill location occupied the former area for jewelry, silverware, cosmetics, hosiery, and "specials."  De Real Ting is where handbags and lingerie used to be purchased.
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Picture of Furchgott's Entrance.htm


Former Zodiac Grill location



Article by Ennis Davis