S. Klein on the Square

S. Klein on the Square, Union Square East between 14th St. and 15th St. (1986)

The story of S. Klein "On the Square," is told very well in the obituary of Samuel Klein (ca.1886-1942), New York Times, 16 Nov. 1942:

"Samuel Klein, founder and sole owner of the S. Klein store in Union Square, the largest independent retail house for women's clothing in the world, widely known by his motto 'S. Klein on the Square,' died unexpectedly last night after suffering a heart attack in his apartment, 225 Central Park West. His age was 56. Mr. Klein was taken ill shortly after 2 P. M., and died at 10:30 P. M. At his bedside at the time were his three daughters, Mrs. Ruth Stone, Mrs. Beatrice Handmacher and Mrs. Phyllis Altglass, all of New York. His wife died in March, 1924. His was one of the most amazing careers of his time. Starting on a capital of less than $100 that he had saved from errands he ran in the clothing district on the lower East Side, he revolutionized the retail clothing business and developed an organization that grosses more than $30,000,000 annually. It was estimated that his personal income in recent years hovered around the million dollar mark. Much of it he diverted into philanthropic channels. Mr. Klein, the son of a tailor, was born in Russia. He came to this country with his parents when he was five years old and was sent to the public schools in the various East Side neighborhoods where the Kleins lived from time to time. When he was old enough to work he left school and took a job running errands at $2.50 a week. It was not long before he started to learn the cutter's trade. From apprentice he soon became a finished cutter and within a few years managed to save enough money to go into business for himself. In 1906 he started out as a wholesaler, manufacturing women's skirts in a loft at 81 Bleecker Street. There were ready markets for his products, and within six years he moved his establishment to Union Square. Not long afterward he abandoned the wholesale business, and in a third floor shop entered the women's retail clothing business. This move was the nucleus of a mushrooming development that was not only to envelop the entire block front on which his little shop was located, but eventually to take in half of the adjoining block. His method of mass production retailing astounded the trade. It has been aptly described as the application of the cafeteria system to retail clothing. There are no sales girls to wait on the customers. The women buyers merely comb through the hundreds of racks (100,000 dresses and coats in stock is not unusual), pick out the garments of their choice and retire to dressing rooms for the fitting. ... Mr. Klein never had a business partner and never incorporated the business. He was the sole owner. In recent years he was beset by strikes, which he attributed to the 'Communist element.' ..."

S. Klein was located on Union Square from approximately 1912 to 1975. This story from the Times, 11 July 1975, summarizes the closing:

"S. Klein's department store on Union Square, a magnet for bargain-hunters, for 65 years, will close within a few weeks after a long period of losses. Well-informed trade sources said yesterday that the Manhattan store, known across the country for offering women's apparel with famous designer names at low prices, and its three branch stores in the metropolitan area, would close later this summer. The move will end the Klein business, begun before World War I when Sam Klein rented an upstairs room on Union Square and stocked it with 36 low-priced dresses on a pipe-rack. The Manhattan store occupies 300,000 square feet in a collection of 11 buildings on Union Square East between 14th and 15th Streets. According to plans under consideration by the Klein estate, the store may be replaced by a high-rise, low-income apartment development that will also have office facilities and several small stores. While comment could not be obtained yesterday on the closing from the McCrory Corporation, which operates Klein's, employes in three of the Klein's stores said that they had been informed of the planned action by management. At the 14th Street store, sales clerks yesterday told shoppers, 'Yes, we're closing down.' About 1,500 people are now employed in the four Klein's stores. In addition to the Manhattan store, the others due to be closed are in Flushing, Queens; Lake Success, L. I., and in Yonkers. ... Mr. Klein, the founder of Klein's, died in 1942. But his survivors, who still own the Union Square site, sold the business for about $3-million in 1946 to Grayson-Robinson Stores, Inc., a large retail chain that subsequently went bankrupt and ceased operations. In 1965, the Klein's store were acquired by McCrory and several additional large suburban stores were opened. ..."

This ad for S. Klein appeared in the New York Times in 1920.

This ad for S. Klein appeared in the Manhattan telephone directory in 1923:

S. Klein on the Square

This one in 1942:

S. Klein on the Square

This image dated 1933 from the New York Public Library's Digital Collections shows an S. Klein watertower similar to the one above.

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