Barneys (1923 – 2019)

Barney Pressman standing in front of his men’s clothing store at 7th Ave and 17th Street, 1923

Founded in 1923 by 29 year old Barney Pressman, the men’s clothier grew to become a New York institution. Barney originally acquired his stock from bankruptcies and manufacturer overstocks, offering deep discounts to his working class clientele. Barney’s son Fred officially took over the store in 1975, although Barney remained influential in all business decisions until his death in 1991. Fred polished the store’s reputation, and expanded the business, venturing into women’s clothing and housewares in 1977. Around the same time Fred brought in his two sons Bob and Gene to learn the family business. Wanting to make Barney’s larger, Pressman’s grandsons pushed to partner with Japanese retailer Isetan in the late 1980s. In an expansion designed to rival Bergdorf Goodman, a glitzy flagship department store was opened at Madison and 61st in 1993.

Barneys followed a classic three-generation business arc (first generation makes, second generation maintains, third generation loses) when Isetan pulled out, leaving Barneys to face bankruptcy in 1996. The company was sold and left control of the Pressman family. Fred Pressman died that same year.

After several different owners, the store once again declared bankruptcy in August 2019. The company was bought out and will be dismantled – its stock sold at deep discounts during the 2019 Christmas season (angering competing New York luxury retailers). Barneys joins New York store Henri Bendel that also closed this year, and many other once great, now defunct New York department stores: Arnold Constable, Bonwit Teller, Abraham & Straus, and Gimbel’s.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Barneys (1923 – 2019)

  1. John Buckberrough says:

    Your mention of Arnold Constable reminds me of something I read last week that their main store was repurposed as a circulating branch of the NY Public Library, directly opposite their main (and more well known) branch, now used as a reference facility.
    Oddly, another New York department store, B. Altman, was similarly repurposed by the library.

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