Having begun working part-time in the retail trade at age 11, Lyman Bloomingdale decided to go out on his own at the age of 31. He teamed up with his brother Joseph to start their own business. By choosing a storefront with two large plate glass windows, the Bloomingdale Brothers opened a 20’ by 75’ store at 938 Third Avenue on a cool, sunny day in April of 1872. Sales at the end of the day totaled $3.68, but they weren’t discouraged.
Within a month of opening their store, business had become brisk enough to convert the stockroom into an expanded sales floor. Lyman recognized the value of using the metropolitan dailies to advertise their wares.
As the nation entered a depression in September 1873, eighteen months after opening, the Bloomindale Brothers recognized the need to redirect their merchandising policy to “offer the best possible value for the least possible price”.
Three years after the depression began, it finally burned itself out and Bloomingdale Brothers acquired a five-story building with good window space on the corner of 56th Street and Third Avenue. Suddenly, Bloomindale’s had become a department store.
By 1879, the new Third Avenue “El” (elevated) Train raced along the East Side from 67th to 129th Streets and with it came the masses from the suburbs. A combination of Lyman’s inventiveness and creativity as well as the proximity to the “El” Train increased sales to over $851,000 by 1883. When electric lights and telephones were invented, Lyman used them bring the crowds and increase sales .
Expansion came again in 1886, just as New York’s most well-known landmark, the Statue of Liberty, was unveiled. Lyman was preoccupied with the move to their new store at 59th Street and Third Avenue. Destiny had decided that this would be Bloomingdale’s last move. Joseph decided to retire and Lyman continued to thrill his customers. When Lyman installed elevators in his new six-story building, he called them “sky carriages”. The wondrous conveyances were finished in plate glass mirrors and fine mahogany. Each of the “sky carriages” had small upholstered seats to carry the customers from floor to floor.