November 20, 2017

Almy, Bigelow & Washburn - Salem, Massachusetts



View of Essex Street toward Washington Street
Salem’s beloved department store Almy’s can be traced back to 1858, when James F. Almy opened his first store at 156 Essex Street in the Bowker Block. His original business card read “James F. Almy, wholesale and retail dealer for cash in silks, shawls, dress goods, and housekeeping goods.” After a successful first few years in business, Almy moved to a larger space in the West Block at 188 Essex Street, where the store remained.
Copy of James F. Almy's first business card for his 156 Essex Street location.
In the 1860s, Walter K. Bigelow became Almy’s business partner and the firm changed its name to James F. Almy & Co. The store continued expanding and around 1869, William G. Webber also became a partner. The firm was renamed Almy, Bigelow & Webber, which it remained until Webber’s retirement in 1885.
After Webber’s departure, Calvin R. Annable and E. Augustus Washburn advanced to partnership with Almy. The firm then changed to its final name of Almy, Bigelow & Washburn. The business was incorporated after the death of James F. Almy in April 1899, with Almy’s wife and daughter serving on the board.
In a 1908 booklet, commemorating the store's 50th year, Almy’s boasted about being the first in many advancements in Salem, including: “first in the city to install a passenger elevator,” “first in the city to provide a retiring room and toilet for customers” and the “first to inaugurate the department store idea in Essex County.”
Early 20th century postcards showing Almy, Bigelow & Washburn's store at 188 Essex Street.
In the first half of the 20th century, small branches of the store were added in nearby towns such as Beverly, Danvers, and Gloucester. In 1951, Almy, Bigelow & Washburn Inc. was sold to the Gorin family, which already operated a small chain of stores. By the 1980s, the Gorins owned 32 stores throughout the northeast, many of which they rebranded as “Almy’s.” After several years of struggling to make a profit, the Gorins sold their company to an investment firm. By 1985, a majority of the Almy’s stores had been sold to Stop & Shop Companies for redevelopment. Today all that remains of Salem’s Almy’s is a clock that bears its name on Essex Street.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

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