Saks Fifth Avenue’s Inception
Saks Fifth Avenue was the brainchild of Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel, who operated independent retail stores on New York’s 34th Street at Herald Square in the early 1900s. Their dream was to construct a unique specialty store that would become synonymous with fashionable, gracious living.
The combined financial input of these great merchant families led to the purchase of a site between 49th and 50th Streets on upper Fifth Avenue, then jointly occupied by the Democratic Club and the Buckingham Hotel. With the opening of its founders’ “dream store” on September 15, 1924, Saks Fifth Avenue became the first large retail operation to locate in what was then primarily a residential district. By offering the finest quality men’s and women’s fashions, as well as an extraordinary program of customer services, Saks Fifth Avenue has become the byword for taste and elegance.
Saks Fifth Avenue, 1924 to 1972
The merging of the Saks and Gimbel families resulted in more than just the construction of Saks Fifth Avenue. 30-year-old Adam Gimbel (Bernard’s cousin) became Horace Saks’ assistant. With the sudden death of Horace Saks in 1926, Adam Gimbel became President of Saks Fifth Avenue, bringing with him the imaginative foresight that has carried Saks to the zenith of its success.
Adam Gimbel also established a Saks empire, with branch stores reaching from coast to coast. When he retired in 1969, he was a legend in his own time. Adam Gimbel’s first action was to redecorate the entire flagship store in the opulent Art Moderne style from the 1925 Paris Exposition, creating a series of specialty shops within the grand luxury of Saks Fifth Avenue. His intuitive perception was demonstrated as Adam traveled all over the world in search of those items that would set Saks eminently above other specialty stores.
Saks Fifth Avenue, 1972 to the Present
Between 1972 and 1989, 20 new stores opened throughout the country, many in Texas and the Midwest, and 8 stores were replaced by newer ones in the same markets. A renovation of the New York flagship began in 1978, with the installation of an escalator service in 1979 and the construction of a 36-floor office and retail complex directly behind the store, which was completed in spring 1990. Saks’ portion of this tower resulted in nearly 30% more selling space for the New York store and was built in partnership with the Swiss Bank Corporation.
In 1973, Saks & Company was acquired by BATUS, a subsidiary of B.A.T. Industries PLC through its acquisition of Gimbel Bros., Inc. In July 1990, affiliates of Investcorp S.A. (“Investcorp”) and a group of international investors acquired Saks & Company from B.A.T., beginning a new chapter in the life of Saks Fifth Avenue. Philip B. Miller joined Saks Fifth Avenue in 1990 as Vice Chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue and as Director of Saks Holdings, Inc. He was appointed to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Saks Fifth Avenue in 1993 and at Saks Holdings, Inc., in 1995.
The first of Saks Fifth Avenue’s outlet stores was opened in Franklin Mills, Pennsylvania, in 1992 under the name Clearinghouse. The outlet division name was officially changed to Off 5th in 1995, with the decision to expand this segment of Saks Fifth Avenue.
In late 1994, Saks undertook a major initiative to intensify its presence on the West Coast by acquiring four former I. Magnin stores in Beverly Hills, Carmel, San Diego and Phoenix. With the August 1995 opening of Saks West in Beverly Hills, Saks Fifth Avenue became Beverly Hills’ largest specialty store, with 260,000 combined square feet between the expanded and renovated Saks East and new Saks West, which houses all men’s categories, plus women’s special sizes (Petite Collections and Salon Z). In August 1997, the company opened a new men’s store in San Francisco on Post Street, creating more women’s designer selling space in the current San Francisco location. A strategy to intensify Saks’ presence in Texas began with the relocation of the Houston store to the Galleria on September 11, 1997 and the relocation of the Dallas store within the Dallas Galleria in September 1999.
In 1996, Saks attained a long-term goal and became a public company as Saks Holdings, Inc. The initial public offering was completed on May 21, 1996, with 16 million shares outstanding. The company traded its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “SKS” until September 1998.
On September 17, 1998, Saks Holdings, Inc. and Proffitt’s, Inc., a leading regional department store company, completed a merger transaction whereby Saks Fifth Avenue became a division of Proffitt’s, Inc. In conjunction with the merger, the corporate name of Proffitt’s, Inc. was changed to Saks Incorporated and the stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “SKS” on September 18.
In the summer of 2000, Saks Fifth Avenue launched saks.com, offering in-store categories, as well as exclusive products and content. Saks.com delivers an enhanced, personalized shopping experience, and is committed to providing the same legendary service and style found in all Saks Fifth Avenue stores.
On November 4, 2013, Saks Incorporated was acquired by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), North America’s longest continually operated company, joining a portfolio of iconic brands including Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor. Richard Baker currently presides as Governor and Executive Chairman of Hudson’s Bay Company. The company’s stock is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “HBC”.
Saks Fifth Avenue today is renowned for its superlative selling services and merchandise offerings. The best of European and American designers for men and women are sold throughout its 39 stores servicing customers in 22 states.
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