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Brooklyn, New York

The Remains of Abraham & Straus Department Store

The gilded vestiges of a sterling department store can still be found in a Brooklyn shopping center. 

Abraham Abraham (real name, not a typo) had grand plans for Brooklyn.

A proud supporter of the Brooklyn Bridge, Abraham dreamt of a downtown shopping experience that would go hand in hand with Manhattan’s grandest department stores. To that end, with a dry goods shop already in business on Fulton Street since 1865, Abraham joined forces with the co-owner of R.H. Macy and Company, Isidor Straus, in 1893, to create a lavishly ornate department store which would transform downtown Brooklyn.

Occupying an entire city block bordered by Fulton Street, Livingston Street, Hoyt Street, and Gallatin Place, the Abraham & Strauss department store was a glittering shopping experience that was the height of luxury and elegance. Brooklyn’s finest shoppers could pull into the store itself by horse and buggy through a porte cochere entrance on Livingston Street. White-gloved attendants ran the bronze elevators. The entrance way on Fulton Street led onto an interior courtyard that soared up to the sky lights above. Dapper gentlemen and society ladies could shop to their hearts’ content, from the fur salon and art gallery to the gourmet food hall in the basement. An elaborate system of pulleys hanging from the carved ceilings whisked shoppers’ money into the store’s silver vault. Abraham & Straus was so glamorous it even had live mannequins in the store front windows featuring beautiful girls from Brooklyn. 

But the golden age of Abraham & Straus soon faded. Dying as opulently as they lived, Isidor Straus and his wife went down with the Titanic, while the area in general fell into decline. By the 1970s and 80s, Fulton Street gradually began to fall into decline and the venerable Abraham & Straus’ fortunes went with it. By 1995 the original name was dropped and the store was turned into a Macy’s.

The store no longer displays the same prestige as Macy’s flagship building on 34th Street in Manhattan. The fur parlors have gone, and the porte cochere is bricked in.A visit today still provides glimpses of the original grandeur and beauty. While the white-gloved attendants are long gone, the ornate bronze elevators are still there, although the banks of gleaming doors are now covered by advertising boards. Some of the upper floors are empty, but the escalators leading to them, still have the gold scroll detailing intertwined with the A&S initials. A war memorial to those employees who gave their lives in the Great War is still there by the marble and art deco portico entrances to Fulton Street and by the central elevators is a bronze relief of Abraham Abraham himself, standing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, facing westward, in the direction of the city of which he was so proud. 

Update December 2016: The original lifts are covered up by hoardings/building work. It looks like they’re doing work on the central portion of the store. There’s nothing much to see as a result.