Strawbridge’s, formerly Strawbridge & Clothier, was a department store in the northeastern United States, with stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In its day a gracious urban emporium, the downtown Philadelphia flagship store added branch stores starting in the 1930s, and together they enjoyed annual sales of over a billion dollars by their zenith in the 1980s. By the 1990s Strawbridge’s found itself part of May Department Stores until that company’s August 30, 2005, acquisition by Macy’s Inc. Strawbridge & Clothier began as a dry goods store founded by Quakers Justus Clayton Strawbridge (1838–1911) and Isaac Hallowell Clothier (1837–1921) in Philadelphia in 1868. Strawbridge & Clothier purchased the three-story brick building on the northwest corner of Market and 8th Streets in Center City Philadelphia that had been Thomas Jefferson’s office from 1790 to 1793 while he served as Secretary of State, and opened their first store. They soon replaced the old building with one of five stories, and then expanded into neighboring buildings as well.
In 1928, the company decided to replace all but one of their buildings with a new edifice, and began construction in phases on the thirteen-story building which stands on the corner of Market and North 8th Street today. Designed in the Beaux Arts-style by the Philadelphia architectural firm Simon & Simon, the cost of the limestone building was expected to be $6.5 million, an amount which caused some concern to the store’s owners. By the time the ribbon-cutting occurred, in 1931 in the depth of the Great Depression, the staggering $10 million cost of such grand construction nearly suffocated the cash-strapped company.
The building subsequently became the eastern anchor in 1977 of The Gallery, an urban mall connecting Strawbridge & Clothier with Gimbels, which had relocated from across Market Street to join the mall. It was the vision of S&C Chairman Stockton Strawbridge that was instrumental in revitalizing the Market East retail district in the 1970s, a vision that is still apparent today despite the demise of both Gimbels and Strawbridge’s. He once said that his goal was to transform fading east Market Street into “the Champs-Élysées of Philadelphia.” I’ve kept this shoe lift since I was a kid.