Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Boston Store, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [The Boston Store, Chicago (1905-1916) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

You've probably heard the phrase, "Looks can be deceiving." Well, this spectacular colonnade once stood much closer to the ground and topped-off a much smaller version of what today is a much larger and taller building.

  [The Boston Store, Chicago, 2 N. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The mammoth structure filling half a city block once housed The Boston Store, a retailing behemoth that gave Marshall Field & Co. a run for their money. The dry goods emporium began life on this site in 1873 when Charles Netcher opened the Boston in a small 5-story building. The story goes that he was so dedicated to seeing the enterprise become a success that he spent his nights sleeping on showcase counter tops in order to spend as much time in the store as possible. His dedication paid off, and in 1891 after marrying ladies undergarment buyer Mollie Alpiner, the pair began acquiring property surrounding the store. Not wanting to show his hand and overpay, Netcher used third parties and pseudonyms to buy - or lease for 99 year terms - the half block fronting State Street and running west along Madison Street to Dearborn.

  [The Boston Store, Chicago, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Just when the last deal was signed in 1904 Charles died, but his partner in life and business took up the challenge. Charles chose well when he asked Mollie to join him in marriage and retailing. He saw something in his aggressive employee and she proved to be as dedicated to their enterprise as her husband. Using his $500,000 life insurance policy - the largest payout ever at the time - she started building their new store and hired the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche to design  a three bay, 6-story tall, first segment along Madison Street. The new building was adjacent to the H&R's groundbreaking Champlain Building, which stood on the northwest corner of State and Madison next door to the Netcher's original State Street emporium. Eventually Mollie tore down the State Street building where Charles had started the business, and the colonnade appeared, topping off the new 8-story State Street building. The store continued to grow in plan and elevation, resulting in the demolition of the Champlain and incorporating the corner site into the building we see today. The colonnade was raised as 8-stories grew to 16, adding a finishing touch to a structure constructed in eight different sections over a 12 year span.
Under Mollie's supervision the Boston was one of the most successful retail establishments in the country. In 1922 the store had its best year ever grossing $32,500,000 in sales, rivaling the grosses of neighboring Marshall Field's. Unfortunately Mollie was stuck in another time. The Boston didn't offer credit, they didn't stay on top of changing fashions, and by 1945 sales had slipped to $16 million. In 1946, after 41 years of slavish devotion, Mollie sold the enterprise for $14 million to a business syndicate which closed the store for good in 1948. The building was converted into office space with retail confined to the ground floor. In one of those twists of retailing fate, Sears now occupies the space, after having abandoned State Street years ago. The Boston name still lives on though, enshrined in brick on the face of the mechanical tower tucked behind the massive facade.

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