Upon entering a first-class dry-goods store in New York, a stranger is impressed with the order and system which prevail throughout the whole establishment. The heavy plate glass door is opened for him by a small boy in entering and departing. If the weather be stormy and the visitor has a wet umbrella, he may leave it in charge of the aforesaid boy, who gives him a check for it. He can reclaim it at any time by presenting this check. As he enters he is met at the door by a well-dressed gentleman of easy address, who politely inquires what he wishes to purchase. Upon stating his business, he is promptly shown to the department in which the desired articles are kept, and the eye of the conductor is never removed from him until he has attracted the attention of the clerk from whom he makes his purchase. All this is done, however, without allowing him to see that he is watched. This espionage is necessary to guard against robbery. The city merchants are greatly annoyed, and are often subjected to heavy loss, by professional shoplifters, who throng their stores. The shoplifters do not constitute the only thieves, however. Women of respectable position, led on by their mad passion for dress, have been detected in taking small but costly articles, such as laces, handkerchiefs, etc., from some of the principal houses.
Such matters have usually been "hushed up" through the influence of the friends of the offender. The opportunities for theft are very great in the city stores. Hundreds of small articles, many of them of considerable value, lie within easy reach of the customers, and all the employes are obliged to exert the greatest watchfulness. Private detectives are employed by the principal houses, and as soon as a professional shoplifter enters, he or she is warned off the premises by the detective, whose experience enables him to recognize such persons at a glance. A refusal to profit by this warning is followed by a summary arrest.
The salesmen are not allowed to receive the pay for their sales. They take the purchaser's money, make a memorandum in duplicate of the sale, and hand both the papers and the money to a small boy who takes it to the cashier. If any change is due the purchaser, the boy brings it back. The articles are also remeasured by the clerks who do them up in parcels, to see if the quantity is correct. The purchase is then delivered to the buyer, or sent to his residence. Thus the house is furnished with a check on all dishonest salesmen, and at the same time acquires accurate knowledge of their labors in their respective departments.
The small boys referred to are called "cash boys," and are now a necessity in a well regulated establishment. Good, steady cash boys are almost always in demand. Intelligence commands a premium in this department, and a bright, well recommended lad will generally be taken on trial. He starts out with a salary of $3 per week. If he shows capacity, he is promoted as rapidly as possible. The highest salary paid to a cash boy is $8 per week, but one who earns this amount does not stay long in this position. He is soon made a salesman, and may then go as high in the house as his abilities will carry him. These boys generally have a bright and lively appearance. Besides acting as cash boys, they are sometimes sent on errands, they attend the doors, and do sundry other useful acts. They are strictly watched, and any improper conduct is punished with an instantaneous dismissal. They generally belong to respectable families, and live at home with their parents. Many of them attend the night schools after business hours, and thus prepare for the great life struggle which is before them. Such boys are apt to do well in the world. Many, however, after being released from the stores, imitate the ways of the clerks and salesmen. They affect a fastness which is painful to see in boys so young. They sport an abundance of flashy jewelry, patronize the cheap places of amusement, and are seen in the low concert saloons, and other vile dens of the city. It is not difficult to predict the future of these boys.
The principal retail dry goods stores of New York are those of A. T. Stewart & Co., Lord & Taylor, Arnold, Constable & Co., and James McCreery & Co.
The house of A. T. Stewart & Co. is the best known to persons visiting the city. Indeed there are very few Americans who have not heard of and longed to visit "Stewart's." It is, besides, the largest and most complete establishment of its kind in the world. It occupies the entire block bounded by Broadway, Fourth avenue, Ninth and Tenth streets. The principal front is on Broadway, and the public entrances are on that street and on the Fourth avenue. The Ninth street entrances are reserved exclusively for the employes of the house. Many persons speak of the edifice as a "marble palace," but this is incorrect. It is constructed of iron, in the style of arcade upon arcade, and its fronts are so thickly studded with windows that they may be said to consist almost entirely of glass. It is five stories in height above the street, and above the fifth story there is an interior attic not visible from the sidewalk. Below the street there is a basement and a sub-cellar, so that the monster building is really eight stories in height. There is no attempt at outward display, the fine effect of the edifice being due to its vast size and its symmetry. The interior is as simple. The floors are uncarpeted, the shelves are plain, as are the counters and the customers' seats. The centre of the building is occupied by a large rotunda extending from the ground floor to the roof. All the upper floors are open around this rotunda. Two flights of massive stairs lead to the upper floors, and there are three handsome elevators for the use of customers who do not care to make the journey on foot. Three other elevators on the Ninth street side are used for carrying goods. Each of the floors covers an area of about two acres, so that the whole establishment, including the cellar, occupies sixteen acres of space.
The cellar contains coal bins with a capacity of 500 tons. Close by are eight Harrison boilers of fifty horse power each, used for operating the steam engines and warming the building with steam. There are in all ten steam engines located in this immense cellar. These are used for running the elevators, for working seven steam pumps, for feeding the boilers, and for forcing water up to the top floor, which is used as a laundry. In a certain part of the cellar is located the electrical battery, by means of which the gas jets in the building are lighted. Here are also rooms for the storage of goods.
The basement is occupied by the Carpet-making and Parcel departments. It is the largest room in the world, and is unbroken save by the light pillars which support the floors above. The Carpet-making department is interesting. The house deals largely in carpets, and one is surprised at the smallness of the force employed down here. The carpets purchased are cut, and the pieces matched as they lie on the floor by women. Then they are placed on a wide table, forty feet long, and are sewn together by a machine worked by steam. This machine moves along the edge of the table, and the man operating it rides on it. His only care is to hold the parts to be sewn perfectly even, and the machine sews a seam of forty feet in from three to five minutes.
In the centre of the basement floor is a space about thirty feet square, enclosed by counters. This is the Parcel department. All purchases to be sent to the buyer pass through this department, and these make up about ninety per cent of the day's business. The purchases are sent here by the salesmen with a ticket affixed to each, stating the quantity and quality of the article bought, the amount paid, and the address of the buyer. The goods are then remeasured, and if an error has been made either in favor of or against the house, it is rectified. The goods are then made up in secure parcels, each of which is plainly marked with the address of the purchaser. These parcels are then turned over to the drivers of the wagons used by the house for delivering purchases. The drivers are furnished with bills for the amounts to be collected on the parcels, and they are held to a rigid accountability for the delivery of every parcel entrusted to them, and the collection of all moneys due on them.
The ground floor is the principal salesroom. It is a simple, but elegant apartment, and its chief ornaments are the goods for sale, which are displayed in the most attractive and tasteful manner. The room is 300 by 200 feet in size. It contains 100 counters, with an aggregate length of 5000 feet. Behind these counters are low shelves on which the goods are kept. In the centre is the immense rotunda, and at various points are the little wooden pens enclosed with lattice work used by the cashiers. Each article for sale has its separate department, and there are thirty ushers on duty to direct purchasers where to find the articles they seek. The display of goods is magnificent, and there is also a department in which ladies and children may have all their clothing of every description made to order.
The second floor is used for the sale of ready-made clothing, suits, upholstery, etc., and the third floor is the carpet salesroom. The other floors are closed to visitors, and are used as workshops, laundries, etc.
The convenience of having all these things, and in such great variety, under one roof is very great, and saves purchasers many a weary walk through the city. The immense capital employed by Mr. Stewart, and his great facilities of all kinds, enable him to control the markets in which he makes his purchases and to buy on terms which render it easy for him to undersell all his competitors. The smaller houses complain bitterly of this, and declare that he is ruining them. In spite of its immense trade, "Stewart's" is not the most popular place in the city with resident purchasers. The salesmen have the reputation of being rude and often insolent. There can be no doubt that, were specific complaints made, Mr. Stewart would administer the necessary punishment to the offender without delay; but as the offences complained of are chiefly a lack of civility, few care to complain.
The throng of visitors and purchasers is immense. They have been known to reach the enormous number of 50,000 in a single day; but the average is 15,000. Looking down from one of the upper floors, through the rotunda, one can witness as busy and interesting a scene as New York affords. All kinds of people come here, from the poor woman whose scanty garb tells too plainly the story of her poverty, to the wife of the millionaire whose purchases amount to a small fortune, and all classes can be suited.
The sales of the house average about $60,000 per day, and have been known to reach $87,000. The bulk of the purchases is made between noon and five o'clock. The average daily sales of the principal articles are as follows: Silks $15,000; dress goods, $6000; muslins, $3000; laces, $2000; shawls, $2500; suits, $1000; calicoes, $1500; velvets, $2000; gloves, $1000; furs, $1000; hosiery, $600; boys' clothing, $700; Yankee notions, $600; embroideries, $1000; carpets, $5500.
As may be supposed, the business of this great house requires an army of employes. The force consists of 1 general superintendent, 19 superintendents of departments, 9 cashiers, 25 book-keepers, 30 ushers, 55 porters, 200 cash boys, 900 seamstresses, working-women, laundresses, etc., 320 salesmen and saleswomen, and 150 salesmen and others in the carpet department, making a total of 1709 persons. There are other persons employed about the establishment in various capacities, and these, with the extra help often employed, make the aggregate frequently as much as 2200 persons. The business of the house opens at seven A.M., and closes at seven P.M. All the employes have thirty minutes allowed them for dinner. One half of all are alternately dismissed at six o'clock each evening. All the employes, when leaving, must pass through a private door on Ninth street. On each side of this door is a detective of great experience, whose business it is to see that none of the employes carry away with them any of the property of the house. The discipline of the establishment is very rigid, and is enforced by a system of fines and other penalties.
The general management of the house is entrusted to Mr. Tellur, the General Superintendent, but Mr. Stewart gives it his personal supervision as well. He comes to the store every morning at ten o'clock precisely, and consults with Mr. Tellur about the business of the previous day, and the wants of that just opening. He goes through the entire establishment, and personally acquaints himself with the exact condition of the business. He knows everything connected with the retail store, and every detail of its management receives his constant supervision, and is conducted in accordance with his instructions. He remains here about an hour and a half in the morning, and returns at five o'clock in the afternoon, and spends half an hour more. The rest of his working day is passed at his lower store.
Lord & Taylor rank next to Stewart, and are a more popular firm with residents than the latter. They occupy a magnificent iron building at the corner of Broadway and Twentieth street. It is one of the finest and most picturesque edifices in the city, and is filled with a stock of goods equal in costliness and superior in taste to anything that can be bought at Stewart's. On "opening days," or days when the merchants set out their finest goods for the inspection of the public, Lord & Taylor generally carry off the palm, for the handsomest and most tasteful display. The show windows of this house are among the sights of Broadway.
Two blocks below, on the same side of Broadway, is a row of magnificent white marble stores. The upper end, comprising about one-third of the entire block, is occupied by Messrs. Arnold, Constable & Co., a popular and wealthy house. They are noted for the taste and general excellence of their goods.
James McCreery & Co., at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh street, occupy a part of the ground floor of the magnificent edifice of the Methodist Book Concern. They do not make as extensive a display as their competitors, but are well known in the city for their rich and elegant goods. The ball and wedding dresses imported and made by this house are among the richest ever seen in New York.