G. Fox & Co. building,
406 to 410 Main Street,
constructed in 1880.
Unknown photographer, ca. 1890.
From a two-room store to an eleven-story building, G. Fox & Co. grew to become the largest privately-owned department store in the country. The G. Fox & Co. building at 950 Main Street in Hartford was the last in a succession of stores, each larger and more modern than the one before. In the 1950s, G. Fox & Co. underwent a $5 million expansion that included construction of a seven-story parking garage on Market Street. Expansion continued through the 1980s, only to slow when business at the downtown store began to decline.
One of several temporary stores opened in Hartford while the G. Fox & Co. building was being reconstructed.
Unknown photographer, 1917.
Gerson Fox began his career as a peddler, selling merchandise door-to-door. In 1847 he and his brother, Isaac, set up a store in a house on Hartford's Main Street. From the start, the store enjoyed a steady business selling
fancy goods, such as silk fringes, thread, gloves, parasols, collars, and lace. As business increased, the store quickly outgrew its small quarters, relocating to different locations along Main Street for the next thirty years.
Firefighters used 3,000,000 gallons
of water to put out the blaze
that destroyed the G. Fox & Co. building on January 29, 1917.
Plans for a new four-story building, also on Main Street, were in development at the time of Gerson Fox's death in 1880. Under the leadership of his son, Moses, the store's final move took place later that year. Building expansion, which continued steadily for the next two decades, came to a halt on the night of January 29, 1917, when fire destroyed the entire G. Fox Building. Rather than retiring, the 67-year-old Moses was determined to rebuild.
Construction on the new G. Fox & Co. building, designed by Cass Gilbert.
Unknown photographer, 1917.
During construction of the new eleven-story fireproof building, all employees remained on the payroll while the company opened temporary stores throughout downtown Hartford. Although the credit records were destroyed in the fire, customers flooded the store's temporary offices to pay their accounts. The new building, designed by noted New York architect Cass Gilbert, was completed in the spring of 1918. Expansion didn't cease with the completion of the new store and just two decades later G. Fox & Co. had almost doubled in size.
G. Fox & Co. Millinery Salon, featuring Art Deco design features such as the carpets and cabinetry.
Unknown photographer, ca. 1935.
Beginning in 1928, shortly after she joined the store's management, Beatrice Fox Auerbach dramatically modernized store interiors, introducing Art Deco styling and extending elevator service to every floor. In the 1930s, she added air conditioning, two decades ahead of most department stores. During her presidency, the store continued to expand, including the addition of a separate drug department in the Hartford Hospital building. At her death in 1968, the store covered one and one-half million square feet.
View of G. Fox & Co. from interstate 84, showing the store's expansion
into surrounding buildings and its parking garage.
Unknown photographer, 1969.
In the 1950s there were as many as 4,000 department stores across the nation, but by 1960 the independent store with no branches was a rarity. G. Fox & Co. joined the movement toward corporate chains in 1965, when Beatrice Fox Auerbach sold the store to the St. Louis-based May Department Stores Co., then the nation's third largest department store operator. As with other department stores, the transfer of ownership chipped away at the store's identity. When the May Co. began opening branch stores in suburban locations four years later, there were fewer reasons for people to travel to the downtown store.
The G. Fox building, now the home of Capital Community College.
John Groo, 2005.
In 1993, the May Co. closed the main G. Fox & Co. store in downtown Hartford and merged the branch stores into its larger, Boston-based chain, Filene's. Department stores like G. Fox & Co. had become part of their cities' identities because store owners had worked hard to create links between their business and the well-being of the city, or in the case of G. Fox & Co., the entire state. Many people who experienced the closing of G. Fox & Co. believed that it was a profound loss for the city and the state.
After almost a decade of vacancy or housing seasonal businesses, the G. Fox Building was sold jointly to the State of Connecticut and a private developer. In 2002, the building reopened as the site of the Capital Community College campus and home to city agencies and commercial businesses.