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Albrecht Powell

Meet me at the Kaufmann's Clock

By March 1, 2005

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A Pittsburgh tradition for over a century, the beloved downtown Kaufmann's clock will most likely find itself attached to a Macys department store sometime next year, the fallout of a planned takeover by Federated Department Stores. Federated, owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, will pay about $11 billion to acquire May Department Stores, best known locally as the parent of Kaufmann's.

Founded by immigrant brothers Jacob and Isaac Kaufmann in 1871 at 1918 Carson St. on the South Side, the Kaufmann's department store line as grown to 55 stores in four states: Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. The massive Downtown store, with 755,000 square feet of merchandising space was remodeled with its still existing marble facings, glass columns, brass railings, mahogany cases, and grand elevators, under Kaufmann's President Edgar J. "E.J." Kaufmann in 1930. On its 75th anniversary in 1946, Kaufmann’s merged with the May Department Stores of St. Louis. Edgar Kaufmann remained as president of Kaufmann’s, and became a vice president of the May Company. The beloved regional chain now appears to be losing its identity, however, as Federated officials have said they expect most of the May department stores ultimately will be converted to Macy's. No store name changes are planned before 2006, however.

And what does that mean for our area shopping malls, such as South Hills Village and Ross Park Mall, which are anchored by a Federated-owned Lazarus store at one end (Federated) and Kaufmann's at the other. It's possible that one of the stores could be closed. Or it's possible that one store will be converted to a Bloomingdale's or Lord & Taylor and the other to a Macy's.

Another possible victim of the planned takeover are regional loyalties. Many Pittsburgh area arts organizations, nonprofits and charities depend heavily on Kaufmann's for support. Some, such as the Pittsburgh Ballet, are worried that the new corporate parent may not continue the many Pittsburgh traditions, including the PBT's Nutcracker production, connected to the Kaufmann's name.

How will losing the beloved Kaufmann's name impact Pittsburgh? Only time will tell, I guess.

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