Ridley's Department Store

Submitted by ihs2112 on December 15, 2014 - 9:30pm

Ridley & Sons was established in 1848, by Edward Ridley. Ridley was born in England in 1816, and was originally trained as a lawyer, but moved to the United States with his family in the 1840s and began opening shops. [1]

Image of Edward Ridley, courtesy of:  http://www.tenement.org/blog/ridleys-believe-it-or-not/

 

He began acquiring property in the Allen Street vicinity, and started to expand his small shop into a department store. By 1850, his businesses gained momentum and he amassed more than $50,000. [2] Ridley’s Department Store was once thought of as the “largest retail establishment in the world.” [3] The store was situated on 319 Grand Street, but it has been divided into many subparts since the store shut down. [4]

Image courtesy of: http://lowereastside.org/listing/ridleys-department-store/

 

 John N. Linn designed the portion of the façade on Allen Street. [5] None of the original converted buildings are currently visible, but at its largest, Ridley & Sons was five stories tall, and employed roughly 2,500 people, mostly consisting of recent immigrants and residents of the lower east side. [6] The interior of the store was supported by ornate corinthian columns, which divided the many sections of the store. [7] There was a wide staircase and two elevators to transport passengers between floors. [8] The Orchard street portion of the façade mostly consisted of brick and stone, with the Grant Street side composed mostly of cast iron. [9] Paul Shoen, an architect born in Prussia in 1832, designed these elements of the structure, hoping to evoke a Classical Revival style. [10]

 

The Ridley building as it appeared in 1874, courtesy of: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2009/08/e-ridley-sons-and-murder-of-edward.html

 

As displayed in the advertisement above, at its inception Ridley & Sons was described as a bargain store, selling a variety of accessories for women. [11] As his business grew, Edward’s sons joined his business, thus transforming his company into Edward Ridley & Sons. [12] It is truly incredibly that an immigrant within New York City was able to transform such a small shop into a massive department store.

 

One of the most beautiful elements of the architecture of Ridley & Sons is the rounded corner, where Grand and Orchard Streets meet. [13]

Image of rounded corner, courtesy of: http://www.friendsofthelowereastside.org/?page_id=888

 

This portion of the building was used as a grand entrance and to draw pedestrians into the store, and thereby increase the flow of traffic. [14] It would also increase visibility for passengers within trolley cars passing by. [15] Certain media coverage of Ridley & Sons shows that they were indeed successful in this endeavor at the store’s most successful moments. The New York Evening Telegram described the store as, “the busiest place of all in that busy quarter…heavily tasked in the busier hours of the day to serve the great throngs of customers who are continually pouring into it.” [16]  

 

Nonetheless, despite the store’s growth, their sales began to plummet in the late nineteenth century. [17] Perhaps this was partially due to the sudden death of Edward Ridley in 1883, as his sons then had to take control of his swiftly expanding business. [18] While the store reached its apex in 1887, their business began to slowly decline in the next decade. The store finally closed in 1901, and the Ridley brothers decided to part ways. [19] Certain portions of the building have been demolished, and its original enormity can no longer be detected. Both sons went into real estate after the demise of Ridley’s Department Store, but one son was ultimately a questionable character, as one of his employees died mysteriously while under his authority.  [20]  Furthering the mystery, two years later, Ridley and another employee were found dead in his office. [21]

Mysterious passing of Edward Ridley, image courtesy of: http://www.tenement.org/blog/ridleys-believe-it-or-not/

 

It is interesting to consider the how the history of Ridley & Sons parallels the story of the immigrants who inhabited it. In the mid nineteenth century, immigrants from Ireland began to fill the lower east side of Manhattan. [22] The neighborhood began to transform, as tenement houses sprung up to house this influx of immigrants. Towards the turn of the 20th century, this area began to be filled with immigrants from a variety of countries including Germany, Poland, and Russia. [23] Many immigrants worked with textiles and in department stores such as Ridley & Sons, but often the working conditions were quite horrendous. [24] The site was also a target for young Jewish female immigrants, and Ridley & Sons maximized on this by incorporating Jewish holidays into their advertisements. [25] For example, they would advertise for both Chanukah and Christmas during the popular shopping period in December. [26] Over the years, these immigrants moved to different parts of the city, usually as rent increased and gentrification spread. Thus, the current remains of Ridley’s Department Store almost stand as a memorial to the lost way of life of these immigrants. While it might seem out of place when juxtaposed with the trendy area it currently resides in, it reminds any lay viewer of a time when this area provided solace for immigrants who were trying to build new lives in an unfamiliar city.

 

There has been much debate in recent years regarding the preservation of the remaining structure of the department store. A fire broke out in 2011, which raised many concerns. [27] On September 11 2012, The Landmarks Preservation Commission decided to protect the “pink” portion of the remains of Ridley & Sons, which can be viewed in the image below. [28]

Image courtesy of: http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/tag/ridley-sons-department-store

 

Notes

1, 2, 5, 6,7,8,9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24 http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2397.pdf

3, 4 "Ridley's Department Store - Lower East Side New York." Lower East Side New York. Lowereastside.org, 12 Dec. 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

15 "Former Ridley & Sons Department Store Buildings Designated as an Individual Landmark, Awaiting Full Council Approval [Update: Designation Approved By Full Council]." CityLand Former Ridley Sons Department Store Buildings Designated as an Individual Landmark Awaiting Full Council Approval Update Designation Approved By Full Council Comments. N.p., 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

10 White, Norval, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon. AIA Guide to New York City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

20, 21 "Ridley's... Believe It or Not! | Notes From The Tenement." Notes From The Tenement. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

25, 26 "Edward Ridley & Sons Department Store, 317-321 Grand Street." Friends of the Lower East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.                                         

27 “Landmarks Commission Could Vote to Protect Grand Street “Pink Building” Next Week." The LoDown News from the Lower East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

28 "Ridley & Sons Department Store | The Lo-Down : News from the Lower East Side." The LoDown News from the Lower East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

 

Bibiography:

"Edward Ridley & Sons Department Store, 317-321 Grand Street." Friends of the Lower

East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

"Former Ridley & Sons Department Store Buildings Designated as an Individual Landmark, Awaiting Full Council Approval [Update: Designation Approved By       Full Council]." CityLand Former Ridley Sons Department Store Buildings   Designated as an Individual Landmark Awaiting Full Council Approval UpdateDesignation Approved By Full Council Comments. N.p., 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 15

Dec. 2014.

 "Ridley's Department Store - Lower East Side New York." Lower East Side New    York. Lowereastside.org, 12 Dec. 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

 “Ridley's... Believe It or Not! | Notes From The Tenement." Notes From The Tenement. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

"Ridley & Sons Department Store | The Lo-Down : News from the Lower East Side." The LoDown News from the Lower East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

“Landmarks Commission Could Vote to Protect Grand Street “Pink Building” Next Week." The LoDown News from the Lower East Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

White, Norval, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon. AIA Guide to New York City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print. 290.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2397.pdf

 

 

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