It could be argued that despite the opening of the Jacksonville Landing and construction of some of our tallest skyscrapers, the 1980s were downtown's darkest period in our decades long fight to create a vibrant urban core. Before then, Hogan Street between Hemming Plaza and Bay Street was the home to a May-Cohens (most May stores eventually became Macy's), JCPenney, Levy/Wolf, Furchgott's, Rosenblum's, and Sears. Here is a brief summary of the rise and fall of downtown Jacksonville's largest department stores.
Cohen Brothers "The Big Store"
Cohen Brother's "Big Store" in 1939. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51293
Known as the "Big Store", the Cohen Brother's massive department store was the 9th largest in the country when it opened its doors on October 21, 1912. Founded by brothers Samuel and Morris Cohen in 1867, the store was originally housed in a small log cabin on Bay Street. Under the direction of younger brother Jacob Cohen, the business grew to become the anchor pulling the retail core of downtown from Bay Street to Hemming Park. The younger Cohen himself, would end up being known as the "Wanamaker of the South." With nearly 330,000 square feet of space during its heyday, the store dwarfed the average 186,000 square foot Walmart Supercenter. Cohens would be acquired by May Department Stores in 1959 and renamed May-Cohens. During the depressing 1980s, the "Big Store" fought a valiant fight for its survival, outlasting all of downtown's former grand department stores. However, with the opening of the Landing, it's doors closed permanently in July 1987.
Furchgott's of Florida
Women waiting outside Furchgott's in 1949. Photo by Jack Spottswood. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51259
Like Cohen Brothers, Furchgott's was a long time Jacksonville institution. Established in 1868 by Leo Furchgott, the department store constructed its 70,000 square foot flagship five story store at the intersection of Adams and Hogan Streets in 1941. According to Furchgott's executives, the store was a "scientifically-designed" structure, specially created for the customer's shopping pleasure and convenience. During the 1980s, the Furchgott's chain fell into bankruptcy. In June 1984, after 43 years of serving downtown Jacksonville at 130 Adams Street, Furchgott's closed their downtown flagship store. In early 1985, it appeared that Jacksonville-based Stein Mart would purchase the chain's remaining suburban locations. However, the deal would fall apart as a result of Regency Square Mall's management refusing to allow Stein Mart to become a part of their tenant mix. Thus the entire chain ceased operations in May 1985.
J.B. Ivey & Company
J.B. Ivey & Company was established in Charlotte, North Carolina by Joseph Benjamin in 1900. In 1962, Ivey's opened a six story, 180,000 square foot department store as a part of Robert S. Jacobs' Downtown Center project. At the time, the store, which featured a Brown's Restaurant on the 3rd floor, was the chain's 7th and first major department store constructed in a United States downtown location in 30 years. Free parking was available for the first two hours in the garage under the building. After years of struggling partially due to road closures associated with the conversion of Hemming Park to a Plaza, Ivey's closed their downtown Jacksonville store in August 1984.
JCPenney, F.W. Woolworth Company and the Robert Meyer Hotel. Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/163677
Still around today, JCPenney was founded by James Cash Penney in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902. Following the lead of Cohen Brothers, JCPenney moved into their new three story 90,000 square foot department store facing Hemming Park in May 1955 at 320 North Hogan Street. JCPenney shared its building with a 16,350 square foot F.W. Woolworth's, which opened in March 1955. The stores shared a common wall where one could literally walk from one to the other without going outside. After years of struggling partially due to road closures associated with the conversion of Hemming Park to a Plaza, JCPenney closed their downtown Jacksonville store in December 1984.
Levy's Department Store
Levy's Department Store during the 1930s. Photo by Jack Spottswood. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/52828
Levy's Department Store was founded by Benjamin S. Levy in 1912. Originally located at Bay and Hogan, Levy completed construction on this four story department store in 1927. Levy's which had a reputation for carrying some of the most exclusive and luxurious merchandise, billed itself as the store "where the styles are shown first." During the mid-20th century Harold Wolf served as the company's president. After his departure in 1969, the store was renamed Levy/Wolf. After 57 years of operation at the intersection of Adams and Hogan Streets, Levy/Wolf closed in July 1984.
Rosenblums at the corner of Adams and Hogans Streets. Photo by Jack Spottswood. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/51338
Frank Rosenblum founded Rosenblum's in 1898 in downtown Jacksonville, selling pots, pans and linens from a horse and buggy. After the Great fire in 1901, Frank opened one of the first Men's clothing stores in the city at Duval and Main Streets. In 1937, the store relocated to the intersection of Adams and Hogan Streets, becoming a luxury retailer competing directly with adjacent department stores, Furchgott's and Levy/Wolf. Rosenblum's would remain a downtown fixture until closing the Adams Street location in 1981 and focusing on their suburban stores.
Sears, Roebuck and Company
Opening at the intersection of Bay and Hogan Streets in June 1959, downtown's 260,000 square foot, five level Sears was considered an innovative creation for the department store industry nationwide. Known as the "Cadillac Store", it featured the largest auto accessory department in the nation and was the first department store to have a sit-down restaurant with waiter service instead of cafeteria-style. Attracting 40,000 shoppers on opening day, it was the last Sears store built with more than two floors and the first urban department store to have a surface parking lot of its own. In 1981, downtown's Cadillac store closed by taking a drive to a new, yet smaller 218,000 square foot location, at the then booming Regency Square Mall.
In a span of six months in 1984, four of downtown's largest and most prestigious stores permanently closed their doors. What type of incentives would this city throw to land one of these places today?
Were you lucky enough to witness downtown Jacksonville during the era of it being a retail epicenter? Do you remember what departments were on the floors of each store? Does this summary of downtown's major department stores bring back memories? If so, we'd like to hear from you.
As mentioned earlier in this article, Metro Jacksonville is in the process of developing our second book, which will focus on the rise and fall of May-Cohens and the urban retail environment that developed around it. In an effort to better understand retail atmosphere lost, we encourage our readers to post their favorite memories of downtown's department stores and overall retail environment.
Article by Ennis Davis