BURDINES: WHAT'S IN A NAME: An inventory of Florida history

Published Feb. 14, 2005|Updated March 25, 2008

Burdines has prospered through six versions of the same name, but changed hands only three times in the sweep of its 107-year history.

In three weeks, the name itself will permanently move into the history books.

A turn-of-the-century merchant that treated retailing as a form of entertainment, the Miami-based chain has remained at the vanguard of the department store industry ever since. On March 6, Federated Department Stores Inc. will retire the nameplate _ along with other regional brands Lazarus, Bon Marche, Goldsmith's and Rich's _ under the Macy's banner.

Federated, which has operated as many as 13 regional department store brands, will be down to two: the 36-store Bloomingdale's chain at the high end and the 423-store Macy's in the moderate-to-better price range. The goal is to have 70 percent of the 61 former Burdines locations upgraded to the new Macy's look by the end of 2005.

Burdines' history is intricately interwoven in the transformation of Florida from a backwoods swampland to the nation's fourth largest state. Here's a chronology.

1898: A Confederate army officer born in Mississippi, William M. Burdine moves farther south after a freeze wiped out his Bartow citrus business but spared Miami. He opened a dry goods store/trading post in pioneer Miami with a customer pledge of "upright dealing." During the early years the biggest single transaction was a Seminole tribesman who forked over a then-startling $108 for the store's entire stock of green calico.

1911: Burdine wills the store to his four sons. One of them, Roddey, assumes the role of merchant and relocates to the spot in downtown Miami that remains the chain's headquarters. The five-story store, then only 3 miles from the edge of the Everglades, is Miami's first tall building, the first with a steel beam super-structure and the first with an elevator.

1925: Riding the growth of boom-time Florida, Burdine is a tireless promoter of Miami tourism that brings his store customers. He lobbies for legalized parimutuel racing, lures big-name golfers to highly publicized tournaments and presses civic leaders to transform a winter Palm Festival into the Orange Bowl Festival. The official name of Orange Bowl stadium built in 1937 is Roddey Burdine Stadium.

1926: Burdine opens a branch in a Miami Beach hotel, the first Miami business to take a chance on a location "across the bay." A hurricane that kills 124 helps take the steam out of Florida's real estate boom. Every window and window frame at Burdines is blown out as well.

1928: Burdine rebuilds to become a fashion authority. He is one of the first retailers south of Virginia to buy apparel directly from Europe, to advertise in national fashion magazines and to have a guest register at the door where well-to-do shoppers can leave notes to arrange a lunchtime rendezvous with friends. The 1,000-seat, 100-waiter, roof-top canopy tea room opens as a spot to see and be seen at afternoon orchestra concerts among Miami's social elite.

1929: Burdines launches its own Sunshine Fashions label of casual clothing and swimwear designed for the Florida lifestyle. Thus begins the chain's role as the store where apparel makers test their spring and summer lines months before the rest of the country gets them.

1935: Sales hit $5.6-million a year, but the Depression has forced changes. Burdine creates Budget Book, a deferred payment plan. The book shop includes a lending library. But in 1937, 2,700 fashion fans show up for the first McCall's Paris Fashion Show, and the following year the downtown store sprouts a sixth floor. The express elevator to the new Tea Room is staffed by "Orange Bowl Princess types" in white gloves.

1936: Roddey Burdine dies at age 49, leaving his brother William Jr. as chairman. But George Whitten, a family friend who started in the ladies department after his 1912 graduation from Stetson University, takes over day-to-day operations.

1937: Burdines pays homage to the hit song Moon Over Miami with a dress fabric of the same name.

1941: The company branches beyond Dade County, buying Hatch Department Store in West Palm Beach. The Miami store doubles in size to 470,000 square feet six years later and Burdines makes its debut in Fort Lauderdale. Burdines designers introduce the daring "strapless" woman's bathing suit while offering auditorium lectures in baby care, interior decorating and bridal counseling.

1948: The chain has four stores, 3,300 employees and annual sales of $26-million. Travel writers suggest vacationers bring empty bags and fill them at Burdines. With stores in three counties, the chain begins calling itself The Florida Store.

1950: Burdines luxuriates in the boom era of downtown department stores. During the holidays, kid rides, circus acts and cotton candy appear at the rooftop Circus in the Sky. The annual lighting of the world's largest illuminated Santa structure _ 75 feet tall and 1 mile of neon _ draws 10,000 every Thanksgiving. Burdines is among the first to group furniture by room, sell fruit and preserves from its own packing house and offer personal services such as beauty salons, a travel department and shop-at-home draperies.

1953: Burdines gets a passion for retail theater that features artistic themed displays and striking architecture. Famed designer Raymond Loewy helps outfit a new store suitable for Art Deco Miami Beach.

1956: Allied Stores Inc., a New York conglomerate that owns Maas Brothers in Tampa, begins opening Jordan Marsh stores in Miami. Fearing the deep pockets of a new competitor, the Burdines family sells to Federated Department Stores Inc., a Cincinnati-based conglomerate, that has more buying clout with suppliers. Burdines becomes a separate Federated division along with Bloomingdale's in New York, Sangers in Texas and Lazarus & Co. in Ohio.

1959: Fete du Soleil, Burdines' glitzy celebrity fashion show, debuts, mixing music, dance and charity fundraising. Over its 15-year run the fete is a vehicle to launch collections by Charles of the Ritz, Estee Lauder, Oleg Cassini and Emilio Pucci.

1960: Burdines' broad selection of appliances, toys and consumer electronics peaks at 104 departments with the advent of Burdines Tire Centers.

1962: Burdines integrates its restaurants two years before the Civil Rights Act becomes law. But it will be 14 years before protests by the National Organization for Women succeed in getting women in the Men's Grille, a dark-paneled luncheon preserve in the men's store favored by Miami business executives. Burdines, which has offered personal shopping assistants to serve Latin America and the Caribbean since 1919, adds to the sales force its 14th language: sign language for the deaf. Burdines Dadeland Mall store opens in Miami and quickly grows into the nation's largest store in a suburban shopping center, a title it retains today.

1969: Burdines decides to be open Sundays. Fresh out of college, Howard Socol hires on as an assistant buyer "as a lark" to live in Florida. He rises to chairman by age 36, then moves on to run JCrew and Barney's New York. He joins more than a dozen big-name retail executives to rise from this 1970s breeding ground of retail talent. Others include Mel Jacobs at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bob Tommero at Bloomingdale's, John Burden at Abraham & Strauss, and Dave Dyer at Lands End and now Tommy Hilfiger Corp. Mary-Jo Horton becomes Burdines first female vice president in 1974.

1975: Capitalizing on the nation's mall-building frenzy, Burdines expands aggressively to the rest of Florida. The first Tampa Bay area store is in Clearwater Mall, followed by Tampa a year later and St. Petersburg in 1980.

1986: Wall Street realizes the nation has far more department stores than business to support them. So it backs consolidators to sort out the glut. Canadian mall developer Robert Campeau acquires Allied Stores, then Federated two years later in what becomes the largest takeover in U.S. history. Despite drastic cost cutting and store closings, the company drowns in junk bond debt. In Florida, Campeau's Maas Brothers and Jordan Marsh chains are combined, then Campeau steers them all into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

1991: Federated closes 23 of Campeau's 68 Florida stores, mostly old Maas Brothers in downtown areas. Maas Brothers and Jordan Marsh are shut down, and the best real estate is converted to Burdines stores.

1994: Federated acquires R.H. Macy & Co. out of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, beginning a decadelong process combining operations and winnowing the nine Federated Department Store regional nameplates down to two: Bloomingdale's and Macy's. Nationally, the Federated payroll declined from a peak of 300,000 in 1988 to 80,000.

1997: Sue Kornick becomes the first Burdines female chief executive and later rises to vice chair of Federated.

2004: Burdines, Federated's third largest brand, becomes Burdines-Macy's, as it becomes the last of the regional nameplates to be phased out.

2005: The Burdines name is erased from the marquee and the chain becomes Macy's.

Sources: "It's Better at Burdines," Times files, company reports.

Mark Albright can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or