A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
The R.H. Stearns Company: Prim and Proper Boston Retro Shopping
Hello, Retro Boston Lovers!
Gilchrist’s had crisp style and smooth layout! Jordan Marsh had scope and size! Raymond’s had Unkle Eph! Filene’s had a world famous basement!
But R. H. Stearns had class and simplicity.
R.H. Stearns was founded in 1847 by Richard H. Stearns. Like many of our Boston stores, it grew and became a name known for quality goods. The company expanded and took over the old Masonic Temple on the corner of Tremont Street and Temple Place in 1886. The wonderful old temple and former US court house was renovated and became the new home of the R.H. Stearns Company Store. By the turn of the century, this building was becoming too small and in 1909 a new, larger building was erected on the same spot. This wonderful building still stands today although no longer the home of R.H. Stearns but remains a proud reminder of the rich history that brought it into being over 100 year ago. R. H. Stearns was never trendy. You did not go hunting for bargains there…its basement never had sale bins like the other large Boston department stores did. Oh, no!! Stearns was prim and very proper…no frills and no gimmicks allowed! Stearns maintained a very loyal shopping clientele and they were very much, by the 1960’s, older ladies of the city and local Boston suburbs. Changing times did not change Stearns…well, not until 1975 with a new owner and some very modern ideas. Sadly, even with all this new identity and five modern branches by 1970, the store folded by 1978. Boston lost its “grand” store…the last really old style Boston store left…and with it died the vision of the “little old lady from Beacon Hill” image.
R.H. Stearns was well known for women’s clothing and accessories. It also carried men’s accessories as well as clothing for infants and young children. The items for the home were fine linens, bedding, china, silver and crystal…no vacuums here! Toys were also of the better quality…lots of wooden items crafted by hand. The motto of “less is more” comes to mind as I think back on my visits to both the flagship store on Tremont Street and the first branch located in Chestnut Hill. They had a way of showing off fewer goods and making them look very desirable and classy!
I have had so many requests from blog readers to do an R.H. Stearns update thus proving the love the city had for this legend of Boston retailing. I have tried to include the various high points of the company as well as the first three branch openings that took place in 1950, 1962 and 1968. I also found out that the company opened a little children’s specialty shop in Newtown Center in the 1920’s and that remained open until it merged into the new store in Chestnut Hill in 1952.
As a treat, I have added a few building permits to this update. In 1946, the store changed the revolving door arrangement to reflect fire safety changes brought about by the tragic Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. I also managed to locate a 1978 permit to convert the building into 140 apartment units. I believe it was the first of many and the actual conversion was done a few years later.
Please enjoy this fond look back on this dear, Boston legend. This store that still remains in our midst and frames a vision of times lost but not forgotten!
PS…… The Jordan Marsh Memory Project
Here is what I said about it on my Facebook page:
This blog has been so popular and generated much discussion around many of the stores of the past but one store really has become a true legend. Filene’s has many fans that are true to its dear memory….but The Jordan Marsh Company seems to have a wonderful nostalgic aura that surpasses all the others for so many Bostonians. For this reason, I have decided to begin a very special project dedicated just to The Jordan Marsh Company and a key part of this project will be the gathering of as many memories from the public who loved to shop there over the many years it ruled the Boston shopping scene.
The Jordan Marsh Memory Project could become a book or booklet of some type in the future…at this point I am just gathering all the information and research materials I can find about this great store of Boston’s past. I encourage anyone who would like to participate in the project to write to me at:
Boston born, Brookline raised Retro Boston Cultural Historian and very eager to get as many memories, photos and newspaper adverts of the once grand stores of the Downtown Boston we all knew and loved. Also I am very busy researching Boston area churches of the past that have since closed or merged into others. All who remember are welcome to contact me with their thoughts, memories and photos to add to any of my blogs.
Email me at: