October 29: Federated Department Stores
Fred Lazarus, Jr., who in 1929 and 1930 combined Abraham & Strauss, Filene’s, Bloomingdale’s, and his family’s Columbus, Ohio department store, F&R Lazarus & Co. into Federated Department Stores, was born in Cincinnati on this date in 1884. His father, Simon Lazarus, served as the first rabbi of Central Ohio’s oldest Reform synagogue, Temple Israel, while founding the family business in 1851; the Lazarus store was the first in the country to be air-conditioned and use escalators, and also one of the first to abandon haggling by selling the merchandise as priced. Federated, the larger conglomerate, innovated with a “pay when you can” credit policy and by arranging clothes by size rather than colour, brand or price. In 1939, Lazarus convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to anchor Thanksgiving to the fourth (rather than the final) Thursday in November in order to maximize the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping season and give the ailing economy a boost; Congress passed a law to that effect two years later. In the 1990s, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and other department stores owned by Federated were targeted by UNITE and other unions for using sweatshop labor to create their private labels, and various stores under the Federated umbrella had significant conflicts with labor unions over low pay and benefits.
“The only Jew who had a greater impact on the celebration of Christmas in the United States than Fred Lazarus, Jr. would have been Jesus himself.” —Mitchell A. Levin