The company began in 1923, when Barney Pressman
opened his first store in Manhattan
with the $500 raised by pawning his wife's engagement ring in
order to lease a 500-square-foot retail space at Seventh Avenue
and West 17th Street in Manhattan, which would become the original
Barney's store, with 20 ft (6 m) of frontage and an awning
identifying the store as "Barney's Clothes." The store
was stocked with 40 brand name suits and a big sign with a slogan, "No
Bunk, No Junk, No Imitations." Barney's was able to sell
tailored clothing at discounted prices by purchasing showroom
samples, retail overstocks, manufacturers' closeouts at auctions
and bankruptcy sales. It also offered free alterations and free
parking to attract customers. As business grew, eventually three
floors above street level, starting in 1934, would be gradually
added to the store.
Barney Pressman claimed to be the first Manhattan
retailer to use radio and television, beginning with "Calling
All Men to Barney's" radio spots in the 1930s that parodied
the introduction of the Dick Tracy show. He sponsored radio
programs featuring Irish tenors and bands playing jigs to advertise
Irish woolens. Outside of broadcast media, he was more eccentric
in promoting his store. Women encased in barrels gave away matchbooks
with the store name and address. He even chartered a boat to
take 2,000 of his customers from Manhattan to Coney Island.
For decades Barney's was known for cut-rate
men's suits. By 1964, the store started to shed its discount
image and went upscale. In a 1973 interview to Business Week,
Fred Pressman became "convinced that the discount route
definitely was not for us. My father and I have always hated
cheap goods.... I didn't want to sell low-end merchandise. Now,
many of those who chose to are verging on bankruptcy."
The original four-level store was expanded
in 1970 when another story to the original store and a five-story
addition was erected adjacent to the original store. The original
store was renamed America House and the addition was named International
House. The expanded store finally occupied the entire Seventh
Avenue block where it began (between 16th and 17th streets),
with 100,000 square feet (9,300 m²) of selling space
and 20 individual shops.
International House, Fred Pressman promised,
would feature complete collections of European designers, "from
denim pants to $250 suits," not just a watered-down "potpourri
of fabrics and models." The renovated America House, he
said, would hold merchandise from "manufacturers who are
in effect designers."
By 1973, the store was stocking 60,000 suits,
1,500 times the number when it first opened in the 500-square-foot
(46 m²) leased space 50 years earlier. It carried the full
lines of designers such as Bill Blass, Pierre Cardin, Christian
Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy. It became the first clothing store
in the U.S. to stock the full line of Giorgio Armani, after
signing an exclusive agreement in 1976. The twice-a-year warehouse
sale, which attracted enough customers to line up outside the
store, took care of overstocked inventory.
Women's clothing was introduced in 1976,
on the third floor of the International House, with fashions
from more than 20 designer houses represented. The next year,
the women's store relocated to The Penthouse, a new top-level
enclosure. Barney's also added housewares, cosmetics, and gift
departments to the store during this period.
The apostrophe in Barney's was dropped by
1979, and about 1981 the removal became official. (The removal
of the apostrophe would be short lived--it was reinserted around
the end of the decade.) In 1981 the women's penthouse became
a duplex. 80% of the women's merchandise was imported, compared
to 40% of the men's merchandise. After a delay two years, the
$25 million, 70,000-square-foot (6,500 m²) women's store
finally opened in 1986 in a row of six restored townhouses and
two larger adjacent buildings across the store along 17th Street.
The addition included a unisex beauty salon and restaurant,
antiques, and accessories, gifts, and housewares boutiques.
It accounted for about one-third of Barneys' sales of some $90
million the following year.
In 1988 Barneys opened a 10,000-square-foot
men's store in the
World Financial Center.
Five years later, in 1993, the flagship moved to the current
230,000-square-foot, 9-story Manhattan flagship on Madison Avenue
between East 60th and 61st streets. It was the largest new store
in New York City since the Great Depression. The flagship is
housed in a 22-story building with 14 floors of offices above
the store. The exotic wood floors, a marble mosaic on the lobby
floor, gold-leaf ceilings, and lacquered walls of the new Barney's
flagship cost $267 million, according to one source. The Madison
Avenue store did well in its posh locale when it opened despite
stiff competition from other nearby luxury stores on Fifth Avenue
at the expense of the downtown World Financial Center store.
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