In an era of fast fashion and memes with the life span of a mayfly, it is astonishing to think that, smack in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, there exists a retail institution whose existence reaches from the Gilded Age to the digital. That place is Bloomingdale’s, the retail stalwart anchoring a blocklong stretch of Lexington Avenue at 59th Street, as well as a department store consortium with outposts throughout the country.
Founded in 1872 by the brothers Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale as the Great East Side Bazaar offering “skirts, corsets, hosiery, millinery, gloves” and a broad array of “fancy stuffs,” Bloomingdale’s set an American template for a modish form of dry goods emporium generally thought to have originated in early 19th-century Paris. If the original store, only three blocks south of the present-day flagship, sold mostly hoop skirts and ladies’ notions (alongside servants’ livery), the fact that Bloomingdale’s survived to celebrate its 150th anniversary this year can be laid to the knack its founders and their descendants had for holding up the looking glass of fashion to their world.
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