Former Bernheimer department store in downtown Baltimore is turned into apartments – Baltimore Sun

95 years ago, the Bernheimer name died out as a Baltimore retail legend. The downtown department store sold to the May Company that year, leaving behind a collection of solidly constructed buildings where you could once buy everything from a hairpin to a fur coat, and can – also be surplus cavalry horses from the First World War.

One of Bernheimer’s properties downtown is set to grow to 107 apartments, adding to the developing residential neighborhood of former commercial buildings where Baltimore residents have worked and shopped for decades. The former department store at 306 W. Fayette St., opened in March 1908, is a project of owner-developer Patrick Grace, who heads the investment group supporting this apartment conversion.

“We are now preparing to start construction,” said Grace, who also owns the former Fidelity and Deposit Building, another downtown landmark, located at Charles and Lexington streets.

Initial work has begun on cleaning the interior of the building on West Fayette Street, where the first priority will be a new roof.

“I see our market as students from the University of Maryland schools,” Grace said of her project, which is one of several ongoing projects near the new Lexington Market. He would like the Bernheimer building to be ready for occupancy by the start of the 2023 school year.

The building’s history offers a colorful retail lesson in Baltimore. The company was founded in 1888 by two brothers, Ferdinand and Herman Bernheimer, the same year the older and better known Hutzler brothers opened their Palace Building around the corner.

No buyer has ever confused the two retailers. Bernheimer never sought the profession of horse-drawn carriage. He wooed the small buyer and did so enthusiastically. The store, which was originally on Lexington Street, a short walk from Lexington Market, succeeded by selling in volume.

Along the way, he became an object of colorful derision. Customers often made fun of the store and its outrageous advertisements that paid for their place in the pages of all five Baltimore dailies. Class-conscious shoppers would advise Bernheimer delivery staff to park the wagon (first horse-drawn trucks, then electric trucks) around the corner so neighbors wouldn’t observe the origin of the car. a new bedroom set.

The two brothers were proud of the Fayette Street store when it opened in 1908. They hired architect Charles Cassell and installed Otis elevators, Babcock & Wilcox boilers and Westinghouse generators. The marble trim was bluestone from Vermont. A headline from The Sun called the locals, “A city unto itself.”

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According to some reports, 100,000 people visited the store on opening day, perhaps a big exaggeration. Mayor J. Barry Mahool topped the list of dignitaries, which also included the sons of AS Abell, founder of The Sun. The store’s competitors also made the rounds – Max Hochschild, Louis Kohn, Jacob Hutzler, Louis Gutman and Leon Coblens, among others.

Store aisles were filled with merchandise on opening day, but also huge floral tributes sent in by contractors and other well-wishers. String orchestras on a shop balcony played until the last tourist left and the key entered the front door.

The store loved the promotions and those who made it on day one received a blue porcelain mug as a souvenir. These mugs are still found at antique sales.

The store’s location on Fayette Street may not have been the founding brothers’ first choice. Shoppers preferred Howard and Lexington streets. The owners knew this only too well and had a tunnel built under Rue Marion (actually a large driveway at the back), as well as an elevated enclosed walkway, to connect the Rue Fayette store to a larger property. small they had on the ever-popular Lexington Street. The now abandoned Marion Street Tunnel is one of several short underground passages that are occasionally rediscovered.

Bernheimer’s Rue Fayette store had a restaurant on the fourth floor, a commercial bakery, and other traditional venues. His basement had a full meat and grocery department. The basement was also where the store once sold World War I US Army surplus horses. Cavalry loaders ended up at Baltimore and Anne Arundel County farms.

It all worked out so well that in 1925 the successful company cut the ribbon for a new million-dollar headquarters in that once-magical sales corner of Howard and Lexington. Bernheimer also began to offer more expensive product lines, a policy that Baltimore buyers eventually rejected. The top hat just didn’t fit, and on September 9, 1927, the Bernheimer flags fell. The large company passed into the hands of the May Co., the national firm that remained in Baltimore, under various names, including Hecht-May, Hecht’s and Macy’s.

The Rue Fayette store continued until it was transformed into a men’s department. The entire operation closed in 1989.