Before there was The Galleria, Sawgrass Mills and Amazon, the free-standing department store reigned. Fort Lauderdale’s first, the Pioneer Department Store, opened at 100 E. Las Olas Blvd. with much fanfare in 1926. Previously, the public had been served by a collection of competing “general stores” – Bryan’s, Frank Stranahan’s expanded trading post and the Berryhill-Cromartie Co.
A five and dime, Crim’s Variety Store was also in the mix. In 1911, it offered an assortment of goods, along with a sandwich counter and “soda-jerks” to serve you.
In 1917, the Fort Lauderdale Mercantile Company sold furniture, hardware and clothing. Advertisements in newspapers touted such items as the Ideal Toe Trip Cribs in which “the side comes down at the touch of your toe.” And the sides were “so high baby can’t fall out.”
Then came the three-story Pioneer store. “On [the first] floor the fittings are most ornate, beautiful but dignified as becomes the great institution – finished in polished mahogany.” Next, “The second floor has been elaborately furnished for My Lady. Her comfort in shopping has been the one thought uppermost.” The store took a giant step up, literally: the “great institution” boasted the first “Otis Passenger Elevators” in the city. And, finally, the consumer paradise featured a “daylight shopping experience” far into the evening with “high-intensity electric lighting.”
In the 1930s, the big stores from up north began to appear; Sears, Woolworth’s, McCrory’s, all opened along Andrews Avenue behind Art Deco-style facades.
Meanwhile, there was retail competition from a few specialty shops. Mack’s Ladies Shop (1923) and Robbins Men’s Clothing Store (1925) were the yin and yang of their fields. Archie Robbins took a big hit in the hurricane of 1926, when all the inventory – which was uninsured – was ruined. Two more hits came with the collapse of the land boom and the Great Depression. But Robbins persevered, his shop came back and he opened additional stores in Miami Beach, Miami and Hollywood. His last store closed when he retired in 1963.
You could say the modern era was ushered in with the arrival of Burdines in 1947 on Andrews Avenue and Second Street. The store featured the city’s first escalators as well as that modern marvel, air conditioning. And it offered a staggering 81 departments! This branch of the Miami-based chain instantly became the city’s leading store.
Soon came the strip malls and the shopping malls that catered to an increasingly automotive society and gradually took people out of downtown. Now of course, online shopping is taking a lot of people out of the malls. But not everybody. There are still some shoppers who like the human interaction that accompanies a purchase, the tradition of the trading post even in a megamall.