Arnold, Constable and Company is believed to be the first department store in America, founded in 1825 by Aaron Arnold (1794?-1876), an emigrant from Great Britain, as a small dry goods store on Pine Street in New York City. Arnold took his nephew George Arnold Hearn as a partner, a union that lasted until 1842 when Hearn left to pursue other interests and James Mansell Constable, a high-profile salesman, became his new partner.
In 1857 the store moved into a five-story white marble dry goods palace known as the Marble House located at Canal, Howard, and Mercer Streets. A few years later as the country suffered from inflation, Arnold, Constable was one of the first stores to issue charge bills of credit to its customers each month instead of on a bi-annual basis.
Recognized as an emporium for high-quality fashions, the store soon outgrew its space in the Marble House and erected a cast-iron building on Broadway and Nineteenth Street in 1869 (an edifice that today benefits from landmark status). Arnold died in 1876 and this “Palace of Trade”, as coined by newspapers of the day, continued to expand over the years until it was necessary to move into a larger space at Fifth Avenue and Fortieth Street in 1914, the site of the former Vanderbilt mansion and now the Mid-Manhattan branch of The New York Public Library.
In 1925, Arnold, Constable united with Stewart & Company and expanded into the suburbs, first with a circa 1937 store in New Rochelle, New York and later in Hempstead and Manhasset on Long Island, and in New Jersey. Financial problems eventually arose within the organization and in 1975, after one hundred and fifty years in New York, the Fifth Avenue store closed its doors.
Written by Richard Thuin