In a novelistic detail that handily illustrates the big shifts happening American business, Lord & Taylor’s corporate parent is selling the department store’s landmark Fifth Avenue flagship—to WeWork.
That’s according to the New York Times. The Italian Renaissance building was specially designed for the retailer—part of the long march uptown over the 19th and early 20th centuries by the ascendant wealthy and the venues that catered to them, and one of many elaborate temples to commercial culture built in the era. The New York Times covered the move in 1912:
Lord Taylor, whose retail dry goods store at Broadway and Twentieth Street has been familiar to New Yorkers for more than a generation, have decided that the time has come to establish a new headquarters in the uptown Fifth Avenue shopping centre, and they have taken a large plot for a new store on the west side of Fifth Avenue, between Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth Streets.
“When its Fifth Avenue flagship opened in February 1914, it drew 75,000 visitors, who were treated to music from a pipe organ on the seventh floor and could chose to dine in one of three restaurants on the top floor,” according to the Times.
But over a century later, in an era of concern about the internet gutting the retail sector that still employs many, many Americans, the Hudson’s Bay Company is selling the building for $850 million. (Macy’s is hanging onto the perhaps the most famous of these grand old department stores, its behemoth at 34th Street, but has closed plenty of other locations.) Lord & Taylor will rent the lower floors, retooling them into a smaller store after Christmas 2018. This comes in the wake of pressure from shareholders, the Times explains, who also have their eyes on the potential cash influx from selling one of HBC’s other great holdings, the Fifth Avenue building that is intrinsically bound up with the Saks brand:
One of Hudson’s Bay’s shareholders, the real estate investment firm Land and Buildings Investment Management, has pushed for the company to sell the Saks store, suggesting it might be desirable to a hotel developer or as bricks and mortar space for Amazon.
“The path to maximizing the value of Hudson’s Bay lies in its real estate, not its retail brands,” Jonathan Litt, the founder of Land and Buildings Investment Management, wrote in a letter to the board of Hudson’s Bay in June.
The Times calls the move “an acknowledgment that even the grand physical shopping spaces of old can now fetch higher values as offices catering to millennial workers.” The spaces of the old Gilded Age, revamped for the trappings of our new Gilded Age.