Thursday, October 12, 2006

Retail Memories - Macy's Hillsdale

Here's a fan-submitted copy of a historic ad in the San Mateo Times newspaper. It advertises the grand opening of Macy's Hillsdale and is dated Thursday November 18, 1954. The ad shows their other locations in San Francisco, Richmond, and San Rafael.

I love the artist's rendering, without the mall and with what looks like a field in the background. One can only picture what that may have been like. And free parking for over 12,000 cars!

Coming soon is the ad for the opening of the Emporium!


Anonymous said...

Advertising a vast variety of telephone directories? That's wild :-)

Georob said...

Steven, you can keep the phone books! I'll take the cocktail lounge, for I call THAT a full service (hic) store.

Hillsdale was actually the first Bay Area Macys opened from scratch. SF's was originally O'Connor & Moffat until Macys bought them the late 40's.

San Rafael and Richmond's were a small retailer named Albert's that had been acquired around 1952. And small stores they both were, as I remember ads with the disclaimer "All Macys except Richmond and San Rafael", usually for big ticket items they didn't carry. Richmond closed in 1973, but Downtown San Rafael hung in there until Federated's purchase of Emporium in '96; though in it's last years in was just a "home store".

Because Macys was relatively new to the region, I guess they thought buying out small community based stores was less risky. In fact, I read that they were looking at such a store in Downtown San Jose before deciding to do Valley Fair from scratch instead.

hushpuppy said...

Georob, you sure know your Bay Area history! I too remember those old ads with the 'all stores except San Rafael and Richmond' disclaimer. In fact, they set up something called 'Order-matic' where you went to a desk in Customer Service in those stores and placed your order for things they didn't carry. Macy's in San Rafael kept growing by swallowing up nearby businesses like next-door Penney's. It was a neat little store, no escalators, just stairs and one rickety old elevator. Richmond was even creakier, and unlike San Rafael which was in high-income Marin, downtown Richmond got seedier and seedier, and by the time Macy's bailed out they were closing every day at 5:30 and not opening on Sundays.

I may be wrong, but I think Macy's Hillsdale was the very first mall store for the RH Macy Co. They had branch stores in Brooklyn, the Bronx, White Plains, Flushing, Morristown, etc, but I think Hillsdale was the first of its kind for them.

I wonder if, in 1954, someone looked around Hillsdale and said 'this is the future of retail. In 30 years the overwhelming majority of Americans will shop this way', or if they were scared stiff wondering if they were gambling everything on a new and untried concept.

Georob said...

I grew up in El Cerrito, so the old Richmond Macys was the one I grew up with.

The Richmond store was originally quite larger than San Rafael's, having been assembled from several buildings in the same block at 10th and Macdonald Ave. My earliest recollections from the early 60's was that it carried most things except furniture and large appliances. However, I later saw old ads from the 50's indicating that at one time it carried those items as well(where they found room to put them is unknown)

The Richmond Macys also had a coffee shop that you could smell throughout most of the first floor.

But as you said, the store declined rapidly due to competition from the El Cerrito Plaza and as Downtown Richmond was no longer seen as a safe place to be. There was a big riot there in the late 60's after which things pretty much started shutting down. It was during this period that the "except Richmond" disclaimers started outnumbering San Rafael's

Still, by 1970 Macys, Penneys, and several other chains were still around, but by then Macys was down to one level and even a third of that was closed off. As soon as plans for Hilltop Mall were announced, Macys closed the downtown store even though Hilltop wouldn't open for three more years.

In contrast, JC Penney not only stayed Downtown until Hilltop opened but even remained for over a year after that, giving Richmond the brief distinction of having TWO Penney stores.

San Rafael did indeed expand into the Penneys next door and across the street into what I think had been a Woolworths. But even with those expansions, it still couldn't shake the occaisonal "All Macys except San Rafael" disclaimer. The opening of the Corte Madera store in the 80's would eventually convert San Rafael into just a home store, but when Federated took over Emporium and Macys got a store at Northgate Mall, Downtown San Rafael's Macys was finally put to bed.

Anonymous said...

There's a great movie/ad that Hillsdale distributed to retailers during its early years, named "Shopping Can Be Fun". Its a real snapshot of 50's Americana.

Its found at; here's the link:

andrew said...

There used to be a wishing well next to Macy's prior to the Mall's enclosure. A little ramp on the north front led down to Macy's lower level as well as the entrance to Mama's restaurant. The well was in the middle of a little below street level courtyard. The well was always full pennies. When the Mall was enclosed, the area was covered and is now just a large concrete area leading to a side entrance. A little of the Mall's original charm was lost.