G Fox Doors – #ThursdayDoors

The main entrance to G Fox.

I had to visit an office at 960 Main Street in Hartford. Anyone who lived near this city prior to this century knows that address – it’s the G Fox building. G. Fox & Co. was the largest privately held department store in the United States in 1965, when it was sold to the May Department Stores Company. The May company eventually acquired department stores everywhere, including Kaufman’s in Pittsburgh, PA. My mother worked for Kaufman’s for years.

While I was waiting for the elevator, a young man next to me started a conversation. I commented at one point that I hadn’t been in the building since it was a store.

“A store?”

“Yes, this was a department store.”

“You mean you could come here and buy stuff?”

“You could buy almost anything.”

“Wow. That must have been a long time ago.”

I just nodded. I didn’t want to encourage questions about horse-drawn carriages.

This graphic is amazing. A floor-by-floor map and description of each floor in the building. It’s even more amazing when you stop and think that it was drawn and assembled by hand.

The Hartford G Fox store was more than the mothership of the chain, it was an Art Deco masterpiece. You felt good walking into that store. In fact, you felt good walking up to the doors, because you walked past the massive store windows. The Editor remembers when those windows would be decorated for Christmas. 500 miles to the southwest, I was being taken to Kaufman’s to see their windows.

I think the guy on the right is Gerson Fox, who founded the store in 1848. The woman on the right is Beatrice Fox Auerbach – Gerson’s granddaughter. It was under her leadership that the store became the largest department in the country.
Row after row. Counter after counter. Floor after floor.
Remember? Well, if you’re my age, you do. Floor after floor of merchandise and people who wanted to help you.

After my appointment was finished, I wandered around the few floors that are still accessible. I was glad to see that much of the original building remains intact. Some of the pictures tell the story better than I can. I hope you enjoy this bit of nostalgia from Hartford, Connecticut.


This post is part of Norm Frampton’s fun weekly blog hop featuring doors from around the world. Each week, door aficionados gather at Norm’s blog to admire his doors and exchange links to the doors that they’ve collected. If you like doors, head on up to Norm’s place and check them out.

87 thoughts on “G Fox Doors – #ThursdayDoors

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  1. Thank you so much, Dan. This is an incredible post! I loved the photos, the story, the journey through the years. It’s amazing how much of the building remains. And what a legacy!! “No sale is final until you are completely satisfied.” WOW.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you liked this Gwen. The guy I met there was so unimpressed, I wanted to slug him. He had no idea how wonderful this building once was.

      Beatrix Fox was known to be maniacal about customer service. She drummed it into her staff, that every customer had to be happy.

      Like

  2. This reminded me of the Frears Department Store in the town where I grew up – huge windows and gold doors. The day after Thanksgiving was a special event because that was when you could go in, walk around, and marvel at their Christmas displays. Remember those days, Dan, when Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving? I was in Hobby Lobby in July, and the now ‘holiday’ displays were up already and the fall decorations were on sale. Yes, once you get close to retirement, have gray hair, and a few wrinkles don’t walk into a conversation about horse-drawn carriages. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we all have those memories, Judy, and they are do special. Amazon shoppers have no idea what they are missing. Being in a store with real people trying to make you satisfied as you shop. It was wonderful.

      Like

  3. One of the reasons I enjoy hearing of your travels is, I have a foster brother in NH and he travels around New England dealing with computers. Plus, your pictures give me an idea of what New England is like today as compared to my own memories. Thanks, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this GP. My wife said she might have cried going in and seeing it empty. I’m glad the preserved as much as they did. Traveling around New England dealing with computers – I’ve fond my share of that 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a wonderful glimpse into how things used to be. The department store looks like it was THE place to be at one time. Love the newspaper clippings. And I adore the Art Deco vibe of the whole place. Great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a beautiful building, Dan. I can imagine a young child walking through the former department store, eyes wide in amazement at the size of it and the many things that she could beg mom to buy. I love old buildings like this and always cringe when there’s talk of tearing it down. Glad this one is still standing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. I remember my mom taking me to Kaufman’s. We would take the street car into downtown. It stopped right by the store. We would look, shop and have lunch in the store’s restaurant. I miss this store, but I am glad they preserved some of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dan – what an amazingly interesting post … loved seeing the evolution. As you say extraordinary art work … people are (and were) so clever. Stores change and so much has happened since the War, and then that previous 50 years … so life is so different to 120 years ago … no horses in the streets, plenty on offer – if not then via that store in the sky … loved looking at that – then your reminiscences of your mother and the Editor … wonderful thanks …

    I remember Harrods, Hamleys, Selfridges and others my father’s parents (london) frequented that are no more … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Hilary. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Shopping was an experience in those days, and the stores made sure you enjoyed those experiences. I was glad the preserved as much as they did, but it’s sad to walk in to so much empty space.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I remember those days fondly. I never shopped in that particular department store but I remember when good service was the norm and Smalltalk was an art form . I remember when stores cared about you as an individual and sought to make you a loyal customer. I was a loyal customer. Sadly I’m afraid those days are only memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And they didn’t send you 15 surveys every time you bought something. “Do you like us, please like us…” They knew you were happy when you left because they made sure you were happy when you were there. People – people were involved and it was a good thing. Today, pffft. Shopping is a mere transaction. An exchange of money for stuff. The art, charm and magic are gone.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the history share Dan. I enjoy looking back at various times and places and articles like yours help us reflect on he past. I can envision the busy shopping days at this wonderful place. I am sure glad these buildings are re-missioned and their history is preserved. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Love, love, love this post Dan! Amazing building. I would love to have shopped there. We had a small, two-story department store where we used to live. It was established early 1900’s and was owned by two brothers. Customer service was key. The salespeople bent over backwards to accommodate you. You were known by your name. Every salesperson in every department could lead you to specific merchandise that seemed to be made-to-order for you.

    When I needed to go to the second floor, the girls on the first floor took my two daughters and entertained them while I shopped at my leisure!! Priceless!

    The front windows, as well as throughout the store, were always beautifully decorated and holidays were a special treat. It was an adventure to shop there.

    Sadly, business suffered when big box stores came on the scene and finally the town revitalization saw this magnificent building torn down. Sigh…..

    Like Pam, I don’t think we’ll ever have this kind of shopping experience again.
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds wonderful, Ginger. I think Pam is right. I think we were blessed in a way, to have lived in that age, when customer service really meant something. I remember that my mother could leave me by the model train setup while she shopped. No one minded, and I knew, if I was good, there would be a reward.

      Like

  10. It’s a little frightening to be at the ‘remember when …’ age. I felt particularly old when my sons were doing it one day about events 20 years ago!

    Even now you can see the original beauty of the interior of this building. I particularly liked that the doors were preserved with the GF and G Fox embossed on them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This was such a special store, Joanne. I knew it toward the end of its run, but I did experience the service they were known for. They became Filine’s, then Macy’s and the customer service just got worse. It’s a little sad to walk through the empty floor today, but I am glad they kept a lot intact, especially those doors.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I did not know horses were artists. As for the old analogy I prefer the brontosaurus. At one time the May company store downtown while still in business housed the data processing center of a major bank. Curious how things evolve though I’d rather go back to the artistic horses…. Nice pics Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember when I first moved to the D.C. area in 1993 that Woodward and Lothrup occupied a similar position of prominence as a high end department store. It wasn’t that many years later that it closed–I think it went bankrupt, but I am not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I miss these stores, Mike. No matter what city you visited, there was a store like this. G Fox started having problems in the 90s. the merging/acquiring began and the store was never the same.

      Like

  13. That store map is a work of art. Sure, you could create something just as functional with a computer that looks as good and take a whole lot less time, but none of that was available at the time, so it was all done by hand. They really knew what they were doing…

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Dan, I absolutely love this post! As a child going downtown (though not a big town) to department stores was a huge treat for me. They were magical, even though they didn’t compare to the grandeur of this amazing building. I love all the photos, but the glass block wall (with big round photo) really stood out. I hope I will be able to use the hat box photo for the Delta Pearl. It’s beautiful. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like this Teagan. Our memories of department stores are ours to cherish, because I doubt anyone else will ever have the experience. G Fox hat boxes are somewhat famous. The one pictured is one that I found in the antique store when looking for photos for my post about Atonement in Bloom. I didn’t realize the hat box was there. My wife saw it in the photo, and we went back to buy it for our daughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Nice bit of nostalgia and history in your blog this week, Dan. Brought back memories to me of Clery’s department store in Dublin when I was a child. They used to send the money through suction tubes up to the office and around the store and the change would be sent back to you by the same system. Did you have that in the stores when you were a child? A few years after the horse-drawn carriages, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a gorgeous art deco building! I’m so grateful to whoever decided that it was worth keeping. I remember downtown department stores too (although I don’t remember them being as beautiful as yours) and – can this be right? – salespeople who actually were there to help you. As the malls were first being built – such convenience! – I don’t think we realized what we’d be giving up. Now even those are becoming relics of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The first time I ever experienced a “real” department store was the winter of 1990 or was it 1991? Baby Girl was just a wee little thing maybe 8 months old when we flew to Pittsburg, PA, and the In-Laws picked us up so no need to rent a car to drive the nearly 50 miles south to the old decaying steel mill town He-Man was born and raised in. Since the country stopped making its own steel and found cheaper steep in foreign lands his Dad was laid off and the Steel Mill closed and the town dried up. It was really sad and depressing to see everything decay. I’m ranting here! Skip this if you want to. I get it. I had no idea! My lifestyle/upbringing was the complete opposite of his. I had no idea! None whatsoever! It was a real eye-opener. I can tell you. Even being dirt poor and coming out of the Marine Corps as a Marine Brat my life was completely different than his. I had no clue!

    On a 17 degree day with a wind chill factor of? I can’t remember how many degrees, I was never, ever so cold in my life! We ventured into the city (Pittsburgh) and I discovered Kaufmans. All 11 floors of it! OMG! I had never shopped in such a store in all my life. I was in SHOPPING HEAVEN!! It made the Monologue I did in 9th drama class come to life, but a bazillion years later which explains why I only got a C on that. Yeah, after experiencing that store I got it. I didn’t have the experience to bring to the store elevator operator’s monologue to life. 1st-floor scarves, men’s and women’s accessories, 2nd floor…; I was 14 and had next to no experience with malls let alone a Kaufman’s! At 20 something actually seeing and shopping on each floor for the first time isn’t the same at all! I knew then why I got a -C- for my Monologue.

    It was after this trip and never, ever being so cold in my life that I developed Raynaud’s Syndrome. It’s miserable and hurts so bad. I can’t go to the grocery store without gloves! My California Winter Clothes were not good enough, but shopping for winter clothes in PA was a huge disappointment. I expected to be able to buy clothes like the Eskimos have in PA. Furs, Fur lined boots, Seal skinned coats, and boots, but the reality was…they only had what California had. Pennisylvainians learned how to layer better than I did. That was the big lesson I learned that year. Sadly, I still have Raynaud’s Syndrome and have to wear gloves to the fricking grocery store and anywhere there’s a breeze!

    On the Brightside…it’s 94 degrees outside today in our new town and I’m good. I’m really good! it’s not too hot for me, but He-Man is really warm. He does better in cold and I am just fine in hot temperatures. I know I’m to going to die/freeze to death this winter! He will be fine, but you’ll find me writing my posts in layers and layers of clothes and blankets…if I even get out of my warm bed, or just don’t die of cold that is! 😀

    Kaufman’s would have the heater on for the comfort of their customers…hum…I need to start shopping again. Is there a Kaufman’s or indoor mall in the big city near me? I’ll find out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mom worked in that Kaufman’s, Deborah. She was s switchboard operator so I got to visit the uppermost floor, accessible only by a tiny narrow wooden escalator.

      Kaufman’s was absorbed into Macy’s, many years ago.

      I grew up in Pittsburgh as the steel industry was still running full steam, but it started to wane ad I was in high school. I was in graduate school at Pitt in 1977, and most steel was shut down. My father had urged both my brother and me not to count on jobs in that industry, although we had lots of family members who made their living there. The city suffered after that industry crashed, as they hadn’t planned for it very well. They rebounded, but the city filed bankruptcy (twice, I think).

      We get a little colder at times in New England, but Pittsburgh prepared me well for life up here. The downtown area could get very cold, especially when the wind whipped off the river. I’m sorry about your hands. I work with a woman that has Raynaud’s. I can only imagine the pain.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great post Dan. These grand old retail spaces were designed to leave visitors with that *wow* effect and this space accomplishes it masterfully. Art Deco seems particularly suited for that too. I remember as a kid feeling excitement just from approaching the revolving doors of some of the major downtown department stores; especially around Christmas. Of our major chains we only have one left: The Hudson’s Bay Company aka The Bay.
    I loved the shot of that old cash register and all the shots of how shiny and well-maintained the place is today.
    Bravo my friend :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Norm. I didn’t have anything to post this week, and then I had to visit an office in that building and I was amazed. It’s both a sad and good feeling. I can still imagine that floor alive with customers and sales clerks, but I am glad they preserved as much of the look as they did.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Being from the west, I didn’t know about G. Fox. Albeit, I did know about the May Company. There was a large department store in the neighborhood next to the one I grew up in called May, D & F. Now I know what the F stood for. I still don’t know what the D stood for though. They were a little higher priced than J.C. Penney’s back there so we didn’t shop there as often. However, my brother and I always got our yearly school and church shoes there and I always got my Christmas dress there. It was a fabulous place just to browse through.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment, Glynis. Stores similar to G Fox were everywhere. I guess it’s what made it so easy for May Company (and later, Macy’s) to gobble them up. We shopped at Kaufman’s when my mom worked there (because she got a discount) but most of my clothes came from J.C. Penney’s. There was something about walking through the store that online buying just can’t match.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Yvette. The guy seemed like he thought department stores were ancient history. I wasn’t sure where we were going to end up.

      The history wrapped up in that building is amazing. It really was an end of an era when that closed that store.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Oh I love this post! It reminds me of Ayres. LS Ayres had a huge department store here when I was a kid. And at Christmas, they did up these windows that were truly something to behold. Also at Christmas, you’d go to the tea room for a fancy ladies lunch where your mother would be proud of your manners, and then you’d go decorate pre-made cookies, maybe sit with Santa, and definitely get a candy cane. My goodness, I wish I could have done that with my own girls. But, in the 90s, they ripped it all out, made a hole the size of the moon, and built the Circle Center Mall. I took our older kids to the mall the year it opened. It was nothing like Ayres, but they did sit with Santa and get a candy cane, like any other mall ever.
    Benson had the same window experiences growing up in the 50s and all we have left of it is a clock they put back up on its corner. So I totally understand your nostalgia, and I am so very glad they saved this beautiful building! (And glad Faith got her hatbox.) They did a good job of polishing it up and preserving some of the original details. Funny how we’re all joined by very similar memories of certain places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That particular Christmas experience seems to be shared by everyone born before malls put the downtown stores our of business. My mom eventually worked in a satellite store near where we lived, but she still took me into Pittsburgh to the Mother Ship store during the holidays. I was sad and happy when I stepped inside this building.

      Hat boxes were such a thing. My mom had so many hats, and we had hat boxes on the shelves in almost every closet in the house.

      Like

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