Adolph I. Namm (1856 – 1920) was a Polish immigrant, coming to NYC in 1870, and opening an embroidery and upholstery business in Manhattan along Ladies Miles on 6th AVenue. In 1885, he moved his business in Brooklyn, and by 1891 he opened a new store at 452 Fulton. At the time, that stretch of Fulton Street was emerging as a popular commercial shopping destination. His son, Benjamin Harrison Namm, eventually took over the business in 1910 due to Adolph’s poor health. During its heyday, the store was enormously successful. It was also one of the largest cash-only enterprises in Brooklyn, competing with other large department stores like Abraham & Straus. At one time, the company was the third largest in the United States.
The store once covered an entire city block, but the 450-458 is the last remaining portion today. Namm’s later united with rival Loeser’s, and in 1957 was bought by Federated/Abraham & Straus, which in turn was renamed Federated/Macy’s in the 1990s.
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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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