Vacation Shopping in Downtown Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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By Laura Malt Schneiderman | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

December 9, 2021

HHoliday shopping with the most choice and the highest quality products once meant a trip to the city center. There, at one point, a dozen department stores as well as specialty stores and discounters were vying for the hard-earned dollars of shoppers in western Pennsylvania.

Kaufmann’s Christmas Circus: A 1940 recording of “Kaufmann’s Christmas Circus”. (George Heid Sr. Sound Recordings, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center)

Now, as an urban-sized Target discount store prepares to open in a corner of stylish Kaufmann’s department store on Smithfield Street – a massive structure that has already been converted to include space for apartments and a hotel – memories of breakfasts with Santa Claus and getting a shoe polish near the Fifth Avenue entrance begin to fade.

Etna’s Robert Jamison as Santa Claus listens to seventh-grade student Olivia Allen wishlist in 2015 at the last department store in downtown Santaland. That year, Santaland moved from Macy’s town center to the One Oxford Center. (Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette)

Etna’s Robert Jamison as Santa Claus listens to seventh-grade student Olivia Allen wishlist in 2015 at the last department store in downtown Santaland. That year, Santaland moved from Macy’s town center to the One Oxford Center. (Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette)

But department stores have left their mark on the Pittsburgh landscape, with massive buildings still standing as an ode to another era, when fortunes were made selling ready-to-wear gloves and dresses and more. structures are grand, the more customers liked to be there.

Downtown Pittsburgh, as a shopping destination, started out humbly enough with a store called Perkins – the city’s first department store, according to a September 26, 1936 article in the Post-Gazette.

A drawing of the Perkins department store that appeared on September 26, 1936 in the Post-Gazette. (Post-gazette archives)

Thomas Perkins, a traveling watch and clock repairer, had opened a store at La Pointe, address unknown, shortly after 1800. He sold fabrics, sewing supplies, and even daguerreotype photographic portraits. “The young gay Pittsburgh blades and their lovers considered it a great sport on a Saturday afternoon to strut around and have a picture taken,” according to the PG article. The store burned down in the city fire of 1845.

From the ashes was born another type of store that eventually led to the heyday of downtown shopping, as entrepreneurs of the time started small and over the decades added more space, more products. , more spice. The era of multi-story, multi-story department stores began with something much smaller: tiny “dry goods” stores often owned by immigrants who sold cloth, sewing supplies called “haberdashery” And a selection of other items, including ready-to-wear items. wear men’s clothing, which had been mass produced as early as 1812.

A late 19th century advertisement of a Kaufmann Brothers shirt size. (Heinz History Center)

In Pittsburgh, these tiny establishments (the first Kaufmann store was about 17 feet by 28 feet, or about 476 square feet and perhaps the volume of a semi-trailer) dotted the main streets of the city more and more. more industrial and in particular Market Street in the city center.

The boom in machine building in the 1800s allowed goods that were handcrafted, like clothing, to be mass produced faster and at lower cost. Industrialization has also prompted many people to leave their rural farms and take up manufacturing jobs in urban centers like Pittsburgh. Although the work is dirty and dangerous, the working hours long and the wages low, for many people these jobs still represented an improvement in incomes before industrialization.

A page from an advertising booklet by the Kaufmann brothers from the end of the 19th century shows ready-made clothes for women. (Heinz History Center)

A page from an advertising booklet by the Kaufmann brothers from the end of the 19th century shows ready-made clothes for women. (Heinz History Center)

In the 1870s, production of women’s ready-to-wear accelerated, starting with high-necked, long-sleeved blouses called shirts. Advertisements for ready-made women’s shirts began to appear as early as July 1872, as evidenced by an edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer published on the archive site Newspapers.com.

Wartime toyland: This undated recording probably accompanied the Christmas window theme “Toyland Prepares for Defense” by Kaufmann in 1941. (George Heid Sr. Sound Recordings, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center)

Stores, eager to expand their offer and attract consumers, have started stocking ready-to-wear. A May 16, 1885 advertisement for Kaufmann’s claimed that the store had started offering shirts. Nationally, the number of saleswomen increased from 8,000 in 1880 to 58,000 in 1890, according to historian Vicki Howard in her book “From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store.”


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