B. Altman & Co. — Memories and Milestones

For many customers, B. Altman & Co. was more than a wonderful shopping experience. People of a certain age often get emotional when they mention how much they miss shopping in Altman’s. For employees, the store was not just a place of employment; it was a family. Memories and Milestones is an informal little book that documents the sense of community that was the hallmark of Altman’s since its beginnings in 1865, when Benjamin Altman opened his first store at 39 Third Avenue, and through the years on 34th Street, spanning most of the tumultuous 20th century. The culture of excellence and service was very much due to the vision of Benjamin Altman and the leadership of the three thoughtful men who followed him, Michael Friedsam and the two John S. Burkes, Senior and Junior. This book of memories is a tribute to them and all who worked with them.

The project was inspired by Doris Robsky and Wes Lang, who began to collect stories and mementoes of the store from their friends. We extended the quest to those former employees whose contact information we had. We received letters, stories, pictures, shopping bags and many delightful odds and ends – much more than we could possibly publish in a document. We hope we have conveyed the flavor and culture with the pictures and quotes. The elegance and charm of the Fifth Avenue store is very evident. In his history of the store written in 1968, John S. Burke, Jr. notes: “No story, a history as much as any other, has real meaning or interest unless it deals with the people who helped shape the events of that story.” This booklet is the story in their own words of the employees, the Altman family, who shaped the store’s 120 years.

The Altman Foundation is Benjamin Altman’s legacy. His standards of excellence and service and his deep respect for the individual infuse the foundation’s approach to grantmaking today. His will celebrated his employees and, by creating a foundation for the benefit of “charitable and educational institutions in the City of New York”, he also exhibited his deep affection for the City where he made his fortune. The memories and tributes will continue to inspire the Foundation’s trustees and staff to continue the tradition of warmth and caring so evident in this little book.