Macy’s flagship store at 34th and Broadway has been part of New York City for over a century. Occupying most of a city block, the 10-story building was the world’s largest department store from 1924 until 2009, and is still the largest department store in the USA. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
Herald Square was not the original home of Macy’s, however. In 1858, Rowland H. Macy opened a store in lower Manhattan, eventually moving to 18th Street and Broadway, at the time an upscale shopping area known as the “Ladies’ Mile”. However, New York City was rapidly expanding northward up the island of Manhattan, and soon Herald Square was the place to be. After almost 40 years at 18th Street, Macy’s moved to its current location at 34th Street.
Mr. Macy never saw the store on Herald Square, which opened in 1902. He died in 1877 but his legacy lives on in the red star used in the company’s logo to this day. Born on the seafaring island of Nantucket, he worked on a whaling ship as a teenager and got a red star tattoo, which he used as his business logo. In 1893 the business was acquired by brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus, who had previously sold dishes inside Macy’s department store. They decided to relocate the store to Herald Square, and in 1902 the new Macy’s opened at 34th Street and Broadway. (Ten years later, Isidor Straus and his wife Ida died in the sinking of the Titanic.) The original building soon proved too small for the thriving business, and several expansions over the next 30 years gave us the store we have today.
In 1924 Macy’s employees started one of New York’s most beloved traditions, the Thanksgiving Day parade. Many employees were first- generation Americans who wanted to celebrate their new heritage on this most American of all holidays. Along with professional musicians and live animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo, employees paraded from Harlem down to Macy’s on 34th St, where Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square as he has been in every parade since. The first parade was such a success, the company decided to make it an annual event. In 1927 the animals were replaced by floating balloons, which are perhaps the most distinctive feature of the parade to this day. The classic 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street”, about a real Santa working in Macy’s on Herald Square, used actual footage of the 1946 parade and indelibly connected Macy’s with the Thanksgiving parade in the popular imagination. In fact, New Yorkers usually call it the “Macy’s Day Parade”.
With a half-million items for sale, Macy’s is a shopper’s delight. With a million square feet of retail space, it’s also quite a workout. Luckily there are plenty of hotels near Herald Square, so it’s easy to find accommodation at a hotel a short walk from Macy’s. Shop ’til you drop and welcome to the Big Apple!
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