Memory Lane: Abraham & Straus Department Store, Born & Bred In Brooklyn

Without the commanding presence of Brooklyn’s heralded Abraham & Straus, we surely would not have today’s Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Filene’s or Stern’s.

In 1865, before the Brooklyn Bridge linked New York’s largest borough to the rest of the
city, Abraham Abraham and Joseph Wechsler opened dry goods retailer Wechsler & Abraham on Fulton Street in the heart of Downtown.

In 1893, the Straus family and Simon Rothschild bought out Wechsler’s interest in the company and renamed the joint Abraham & Straus—which also had controlling interest in R.H. Macy & Co. in New York. By 1900, A&S had 4,650 employees. In April, 1912, co-founder Isidor Straus and his wife Ida went down with the Titanic. Oops.

Within 15 years, the thriving company bought & renovated an ornate Art Deco cast iron building down the street, and the glistening new department store became the ultimate destination for Brooklyn Heights’, Downtown Brooklyn’s and the surrounding areas’ upscale clientele.

The space was continually expanded through 1928 until it took up an entire city block at 422 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. The A&S anchor store represented the height of white-glove service and elegance in the department store biz, mobbed with customers who were doted upon by uniformed elevator operators, along with a gourmet food center, furs, restaurant, art gallery, beauty salon, stamps & coins and a “wig bar.” There was even space where you could pull in your horse & buggy and park comfortably underground.

In 1929, Abraham & Straus, Bloomingdale’s, Filene’s & Lazarus merged to form Federated Department Stores and set up base in Cincinnati. In 1950, the company purchased Loeser’s in Garden City and converted that to Abraham & Straus, continuing suburban expansion in Hempstead, N.Y., in 1952, followed by Manhasset, Smithtown, Babylon, White Plains and Manhattan; Monmouth, Short Hills and Paramus, N.J.; and King of Prussia and Willow Grove, Penn.

Throughout much of the 20th Century, Abraham & Straus maintained stance as the powerhouse of Federated. However, over-expansion to other regions and vapid business strategies toppled the fortunes of A&S and by the late 1970s, after a real estate developer purchased Federated, it merged with Boston’s Jordan Marsh. In 1994, the beloved A&S brand was shuttered under the Macy’s banner, with a handful of stores becoming Federated’s low-end Stern’s. Fortunately, A&S lives on, if only in spirit. At the original location on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, a prominent plaque is outside of what is still Macy’s today, paying homage to the company’s grand history.

In 2003, the Brooklyn Heights Assn. and Municipal Art Society added the building to 28 historic structures in Downtown Brooklyn, meriting landmark designation. Sadly, Macy’s nixed the “wig bar.”

(Photos: Archive; Current: Chuck Taylor. Much of this information came from Plummer & Associates Blog. A generous thanks.)

Share this Story:

, ,


    Remember going every year to A&S school clothes , Christmas time to see Santa and Easter time for a outfit. Miss those times.


    I remember the custard stand in the basement…the bribe mother used to get us shopping w/her.

    Most do not believe today but any & all purchases made in A&S would be picked-up at your home by UPS any returned for full credit if my mother wanted to return them.


    it’s a really a shame how macy’s has let this amazing historical site to fall into such disrepair. every time i walk into the store i am immediately hit with the history and beauty and then very quickly after that with the dumpiness. pretty disappointing.

  • bornhere

    That wonderful picture with the Ralph Kramden-esque bus is actually Livingston Street, which, at the time, had one of the strangest retail conglomerations.
    Ernest — When I think of whatever that deliciousness was in the basement of A&S, it occurs to me how interesting it was that the “custard” (with chocolate sauce, please) was served in parfait glasses — odd elegance among the luggage, hot dogs, and subway entrance, with its narrow, wood escalator to the 2 and 3.

  • Elaine Comstock-Leirer

    was the custard, of which you speak, not The Drink That you eat with a spoon, sooo cold that your eye teeth gave you brain freeze…so good that it was the first place one drags one’s nanny amid protestations and threats.

  • John Wentling

    It was a wonderful place, recall being tickled pink to ride the subway to A&S, and ride those old wooden escalators.

  • Neil

    Who else remembers the pneumatic tubes in which paperwork was sent from the point of sale to the offices upstairs? For some reason, I found that system fascinating to watch, thinking it was so cutting edge.

    Almost as much fun was the X-ray machine in the children’s shoe department, where I could gaze at the bones in my feet as often as I liked, even if new shoes weren’t on the shopping list. Yikes!

  • Garrison

    Stan Levenson, author of When Brooklyn Was Heaven, tonight at 7pm EST on Conversation Crossroad radio program

  • Jorale-man

    @common – I agree about the current state of the building. The Macy’s company doesn’t seem to have much sense of social responsibility, where they see themselves as inheritors of a great tradition. If they did, they’d put some money into restoring the A&S building to its former glory. There are hints of it inside – especially around the elevators in the women’s dept. – but it’s mostly drop ceilings and painter-over drywall. Maybe some future owner will do more with it…

  • Muskrat

    Back to School shopping on Fulton St in the 60s was certainly a ritual for many. In addition to going to A&S, we usually included going to Martin’s across the street and I think we went to a “good” shoe store along that section as well. It would be nice to see better maintenance of many of the buildings in that stretch, regardless of historic significance!

  • Muskrat

    Meant to also note that “oops” may not be the best tone to strike re the Straus’ demise, in what’s otherwise an interesting piece!

  • mbutz

    Nice piece on a wonderful place. Yes, that custard was fantastic – I loved it with the strawberry topping. I cannot stand going to Macy’s – it is so low end and understaffed.

  • John Wentling

    Demonstrates that our glory days are well behind us.

  • yoohoo

    All who bemoan the demise of Fulton Street and its retail palaces ought to keep in mind that it was the move of the white middleclass to the suburbs that spelled the end of Fulton Street as you remember it and opened the street to vendors catering to a different demographics. And if you had read the local newspapers during the past few years, you would know that the EDC and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership have been hard at work to change the scene. In the meantime, if it hadn’t been for some dedicated preservationists, at least a few of the building facades wouldn’t have been landmarked.

  • Joan S.

    A&S is what brought me and my college roommate to Brooklyn 52 years ago. We joined the Executive Training Program for six months and then became Assistant Buyers. We lived in a fine boarding house on Pierrepont St. for $99.00 per month and started our dream careers at A & S at $55.00 per week. It was a very exciting time! I knew all the back stairways and little elevators to get down into the stockroom areas quickly to bring up more merchandise to keep up with the “hot” sales. Coming from Northern Maine originally, there was MUCH to be learned in Brooklyn! I discovered root beer floats in the Fountain Cafe, mushy fish cakes over spaghetti in the basement lunchroom. Slowly, I got to understand the Brooklyn accent of both customers and employees. For awhile, I thought I was in another country altogether.
    At Holiday time, the store became so crowded that one could literally not move. The Executives would come down to the Main selling floor and station themselves near the many exit doors and start smiling and whizzing people OUT the doors to thin out the crowds.
    Over the years the store fell into such decline that it became very sad to go there remembering what used to be. I stopped going.
    If all goes well, there will be a new life for the grand old store and we will all get to enjoy a trip there once more.

  • philica

    I lo-o-oved the wooden escalators!!! That was the highlight of every trip to A & S for me. I also remember leaving a beloved stuffed toy behind somewhere in the store while shopping with my mother. I was inconsolable when we got home and realized my toy was gone. My mother called my dad, who stopped in the store on his way home from work, and unbelievably walked right to the spot where I’d left it!! When he got home and presented his find to me, I was elated. My dad was my hero!

  • Eddyenergizer

    It was all about the toy department on the 8th floor,

  • bornhere

    Yes, Eddy! And the Christmas tree on the main floor and the “Information Lady” sitting high in her marble tower thing.

    And John, I think you’re right about our glory days! It IS the little things, after all.

  • Ron Schweiger

    Two gentlemen who worked for Mr. Abraham in the very early years, were Benjamin Altman (B. Altman’s on Fifth Avenue) and Simon Bloomingdale. Bloomingdales is still in operation. When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, Abraham’s friends suggested he move his store (Wechsler and Abraham), further down Fulton Street, closer to where the horses and wagons are coming off the new bridge. The store was eventually moved and the new one, the one we went shopping in, opened in 1895, two years after Isadore and Nathan Straus joined. My wife and I have an A&S shopping bag framed with our A&S credit cards along side it.

  • Stan Levenson

    My mom used to work at the A & S Department Store in the 1940’s. Not having a dad at the time, this job certainly helped feed the three kids. I talk about this in my new book, When Brooklyn Was Heaven. If you enjoy reading about stories of the “old” days in Brooklyn, or would like to find out more about the place at the time, you certainly will get a kick out of the 135 short stories and 60 photos in the book.

  • Gram

    I’ve been looking for someone who remembers the custard from A&S. I was happy to find this site. The pictures are great and there really are people out there who remember that delicious custard.

    My mother also worked at A&S during the war.

    I seem to remember them being called “frosteds” – but I could be thinking of another place. I miss A&S to this day. I’m not crazy about Macy’s, either.

  • pretap