Historic, but not famous

Louis Blumstein, department store owner

In 1885 Louis Blumstein arrived in the United States from Germany. He worked as a street peddler and in 1894 opened a store on Hudson Street. In 1898 he moved to West 125th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, already a major regional shopping center.

Mr. Blumstein died in the 1920s and his family took over the store. The family tore down the store after his death and built a 5 story building. It was a beautiful $1 million art deco building, second largest on 125th street after the Hotel Teresa and completed in 1923.  They were the largest department store in Harlem. The store did not hire African Americans and became the main focus of the “Don’t shop where you can’t work” campaign in 1934. The department store had only hired African Americans as porters and elevator operators, not as sales people though 75% of its sales came from African Americans in the neighborhood.

On July 26, William Blumstein, head of the store and a brother of Louis Blumstein, capitulated, promising to hire 35 blacks for clerical and sales positions by the end of September. in 1943 Blumstein’s had the first black Santa Claus, was the first to use black models and mannequins and successfully appealed to cosmetic manufacturers to produce make-up for non-white skin tones. For years its mechanical black Santa Claus was a Christmas fixture on 125th Street.

Blumstein’s was also the site where Martin Luther King was attending a book signing engagement when he was stabbed in the chest on September 20, 1958 by Izola Curry, a deranged woman. He was taken to Harlem Hospital where he recovered. The building is now the site of Touro College.

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