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NoHo’s Original Superstore: From Wanamaker’s to Wegmans

During the years 1903 to 1907, construction was underway for an imposing steel frame structure located on the block bounded by Broadway, Fourth Avenue, and East 8th and 9th Streets. A second phase of construction occurred in 1924 to subsume the “Jones Building,” an existing nine-story commercial building at the northeast corner of Broadway and East 8th Street. When completed, the Renaissance Revival building at 770 Broadway encompassed the full block and reached fourteen stories tall, with grand triple-height arched window bays along all four sides.

770 Broadway, the “Wanamaker Building,” during construction. Photograph courtesy of Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

Designed by Chicago architecture firm D.H. Burnham & Co., the building features limestone and terra cotta cladding throughout. Due to the unique interruption of the street grid formed by Astor Place, the Fourth Avenue and 8th Street portions of the building can be viewed from a wider angle than is otherwise typical, providing sweeping views of these prominent facades.

770 Broadway, from the corner of East 8th Street and Lafayette Street, 1933. Photograph courtesy of Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

The structure was purpose built for John Wanamaker (1839-1922), founder of Wanamaker’s Department Store, one of the first department stores in the United States. He had created a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia in 1861, and by 1877, augmented the original store to include women’s wares and dry goods. In 1896 the business expanded to New York. The first Wanamaker’s in New York City was located across East 9th Street from what would become 770 Broadway, in the old A.T. Stewart cast-iron store (since demolished due to a fire).

Wanamaker’s became one of the city’s leading department stores until its closure in 1955. After the store’s departure, 770 Broadway was converted to office space on the upper floors, while the first three floors continued to be occupied by various retailers (photographs from the 1960s show that, among other businesses, the space was leased to several banks for a time). The building was designated a New York City landmark as part of the NoHo Historic District on June 29, 1999.

Kmart at 770 Broadway. Photograph courtesy EV Grieve.

In 1996, Kmart moved in. As a big box chain store, it was perhaps an outlier in terms of the typical neighborhood fare, but Kmart nonetheless became a mainstay for the next 25 years, selling everything from t-shirts, to housewares, to holiday decor that was often dubiously out-of-season. Many fondly recall entering the store directly from its one-of-a-kind basement entrance accessed from the Astor Place southbound 6 train platform.

A New York Times article lamenting Kmart’s closure in July 2021 also noted that apparently, many locals thought the store might have been haunted, and shared that:

“It was a Kmart, yes, but dustier than any you had ever seen and stranger than you would expect. It wasn’t necessarily reliable, but it was relied upon… a store that existed, despite everything.”

When Kmart left 770 Broadway in 2021, the massive storefront’s fate was initially unclear. But it soon became known that construction was underway for Manhattan’s first Wegmans supermarket. Founded in 1916 as the family-owned “Rochester Fruit and Vegetable Company” in Rochester, New York, today Wegmans has somewhat of a cult following with stores up and down the East Coast (in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, and Washington D.C.). The first NYC location opened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2019.

770 Broadway with Wegmans signage. Photograph by Dena Tasse-Winter, October 2023.

Much like Wanamaker’s, which continued to be a family-owned business throughout its duration at 770 Broadway, Wegmans is still family-run to this day. In this way, the building will once again honor its original purpose and service to the community. When it was a department store throughout all floors of the building, the shopping “palace” contained 32 acres of retail space, a central court, an auditorium with 1,300 seats, and a large restaurant to round out the shopping experience. Though Wegmans will only occupy the first two floors, it will still constitute a massive store for this area of the city. Take a sneak peek at the interiors before the highly anticipated supermarket opens on October 18th, 2023.

3 responses to “NoHo’s Original Superstore: From Wanamaker’s to Wegmans

  1. Dena!
    I so enjoyed reading your beautifully written feature. I’ve lived two blocks from this location for 25+ years and been fascinated to learn about the history that happened there. Including new stuff I learned via your feature! It’s great that Village Preservation (and you) are promoting some of that lore and info on Wegman’s “provenance” as its Oct 18 opening nears. Wegman’s will be a worthy steward of the site (and a great store for our neighborhood). Big thanks!

  2. It might be a stretch to call Wanamaker’s a family-owned business at the time of the NY store’s closure in 1954. John, and son Rodman created a trust, so that no Wanamaker family member would have any form of decision making leadership in the business. Except for an involved grandson, Wanamaker family members typically met once a year, whether they wanted to or not, in order to fulfill the trust’s requirement. The Wanamaker leadership wanted out of the NY store within decades of its acquisition. (Just a bit of history.)

  3. *Yes, it is a beautiful store with wide aisles, well laid out displays and enticing meat, fish and produce, but with astronomical prices.

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