07 March 2012

The Last Bit of S. Klein in New York

"S. Klein" appears in the tile before the door of 68 Clinton Street, now Falai, a falafel joint.

This is perhaps the last scrap of evidence of the once mighty position Klein's department stores once held in the city. The local chain was founded by immigrant Sam Klein before World War I, in a small, second-floor space on Union Square. That location expanded greatly, and for many years, Klein's was famously associated with Union Square. It had a huge sign, two stories tall, that said, grandly, "S. Klein on The Square." The stores' stock and trade was discount good. Housewives knew you went to Klein's for bargains. The shop's logo was a carpenter's square, for some reason.

Klein died in 1942. His family sold the business in 1946, and thereafter it passed through the hands of a few corporations. The Klein stores, of which there were once 19, continued to do well throughout the 1950s. By 1959, however, they began to register regular deficits. And price wars with Ohrbach's and J.W. Mays, two other discounters on Union Square, did the chain harm. The entire outfit shut down for good in 1975.

The Clinton Street shop very likely closed some years before then.

Klein's was immortalized in "Guys and Dolls," when Miss Adelaide sang "At Wanamaker's and Saks and Klein's/A lesson I've been taught/You can't get alterations/On a dress you haven't bought."


Toni Kamins said...

Also immortalized by Judy Holiday in Bells Are Ringing by Comden and Green. The song "Drop that Name" contains the phrase "things with great lines....like things from Klein's."

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Easy to rhyme Klein's, I guess.

Tom Rinaldi said...

The best S. Klein relic is in Newark - the entire store, complete with multi-story neon sign styled very similarly to the one that used to be at Union Square. Check'er out:

Michael Wierzbicki said...

Just wanted to follow up on the last comment about the Newark store. The whole block, including that wonderful HUGE neon sign, are to be demolished soon to make way for the new Prudential building. Sigh...