Friday, November 9, 2007

Breakfast at Korvettes

In 1962, Korvette opened a store that not only gained the company national publicity but proved to be hugely profitable in its own right, and also helped cement the direction of a major part of Korvette’s merchandising going forward. I’m referring to the famous eight-floor “Fifth Avenue Korvettes”, which opened on July 24, 1962 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s “Gold Coast” retail district.

In the months leading up to the store’s opening, the store became the subject of many jokes (and much genuine concern) within Fifth Avenue’s elite retail enclave, which at the time included such luminaries as Lord & Taylor, Tiffany and Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others. The basis of this was a fear that Korvette would open a stereotypically tacky discount store with barren walls, poor lighting, pipe garment racks and substandard goods, thus tarnishing the area’s image.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. The store (which was opened in the former location of W.J. Sloane, a famous New York furniture store which had resided there for the previous 50 years) was very tastefully decorated in a classy, elegant manner via a million-dollar renovation. Moreover, Eugene Ferkauf and his subordinates did a superb job of merchandising, stocking the store with a fine array of upscale apparel, including cashmere sweaters, furs (very much in vogue at the time though extremely controversial now) and other high-end items, in addition to their normal midprice offerings.

The store was a smashing success, and limousines picking-up and delivering well-heeled patrons were a common sight. On top of that, the store became something of a tourist attraction and would remain so for much of the next decade, even after Korvette declined in other areas. The Fifth Avenue store greatly influenced Korvette merchandising, leading to an increased emphasis on soft goods (clothing) and more upscale store d├ęcor.

The photos shown are all from 1962, the store’s first year, and show a bustling Fifth Avenue sidewalk scene, a beautiful night view, and a sizable crowd shopping in the women’s department. I really like the night picture. You can almost picture this scene several hours later – the sun is rising, peering between the buildings and down the street, which is still virtually devoid of people – then Audrey Hepburn appears, holding her cup of coffee and danish and gazing through one of the windows as “Moon River” strains in the background. You know, “Breakfast at Korvettes”, right? Well, maybe not.

3 comments:

  1. God, that is such a beautiful store. What has become of the building? Any idea?

    I just want to go there, find a cat and name it Cat.

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  2. I guess that Holly never did give the thing a name, did she?

    The building still stands, Didi, but is totally unrecognizable. In the early 1980's a huge office tower was built on top of the original 8-floor structure. The original portion was converted into a mall of sorts.

    Unfortunately, the classic facade with the Roman columns is as gone as can be.

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  3. Why on earth would anyone stick a highrise on top of that grand dame and then get rid of the columns? That's buildicide! So sad. Very very sad.

    Nope, Holly never gave that darn cat a name. She could have named it Tiffany.

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