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

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Comments (4)

  1. I was about to open and down a bottle of Manischewitz’s finest in celebration of Fred Lazarus, Jr. and his saintly rabbi/merchant father until I finally arrived at the tail end of your endless tale. Horrors! Such a fine, upstanding, FDR-connected Jewish Gentleman (member of the AJCommittee, no doubt), the firm founder of sweatshop-produced garments that had “significant conflicts” with its exploited workers. May the ghosts of the garment-worker founders/supporters of Jewish Life/Currents haunt his memory and your conscience.

    • While JEWDAYO is subheaded, “A Daily Blast of Pride,” an appearance in JEWDAYO doesn’t always call for honors, but denotes influence. We’ve featured lots of labor and revolutionary activists and lots of capitalists; Jews have innovated mightily in both roles, and often, in the latter role, to positive social effect (Edward Filene, Julius Rosenwald, Ben Cohen), notwithstanding the built-in social abuses of capitalism. Go ahead, drink your Manischewitz, Hershl — it’ll improve your manners!

  2. Maybe a swig of that rotgut will induce you to change the misleading subhead to something more accurate, like, maybe “Famous and Infamous Jews.” The current one risks running afoul of the FTC for false advertising. I don’t feel pride in any of your “positive to social effect” heroes: another Jew taught me where their wealth came from; how they disposed of a tithe hardly changes the facts.

    And I keep my elbows off the tables and my thumbs off the scales — so I’m as mannerly as they come (even if not as elaborately so as in the Filene, Rosenwald and Lazarus households with their surely well-paid domestic servants).

    • Fred Lazarus, Jr., died in 1973, some 20 years before UNITE began organizing against Federated’s stores use of sweatshop labor. So why the suggestion of infamy toward Fred Lazarus, Jr.?

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