Historic Living... Rich's Department Store

Monday, December 23, 2019   /   by Stacy Wilson

Historic Living... Rich's Department Store

In asking long term Atlanta residents what their most cherished holiday memories are, one name kept coming up- Rich's. Rich's Department Store was one of the longest running businesses in Downtown Atlanta. The first store was opened in 1867 as M.Rich & Company. It was started by a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant. Mauritius Reich changed his name to Morris Rich to assimilate into the southern United States. The store sold dry goods. In the late 1800's stores were specialized in what they sold. The idea of one store selling a wide range of items in one location was a new and radical idea. By 1906, the store was incorporated as M. Rich & Bros and became a true department store.


 



photo courtesy Picryl Public Domain

Pictured above is the first department store built in 1906 at 52-56 Whitehall Street. The building still stands today as 82 Peachtree St, just south of the 5 Points MARTA station.  The store continued to expand and in 1924 they moved into their flagship store at 45 Broad Street. Much of this store still stands and has been incorporated into the Sam Nunn Federal Center. It is most easily spotted by it's clock face. (see below)


 



photo courtesy Picryl Public Donain

The Downtown store continued to expand by adding additional buildings to house the Home Store. This was connected by the multi-level Crystal Bridge. This connected the original Palazzo style architecture with the modern International style of the Home Store. This bridge was a tourist attraction by itself, but once executive Frank Palotta had the idea of placing a giant Christmas tree atop of it in 1948, the tradition of Rich's Great Tree was born. The lighting took place on the evening of Thanksgiving.



photo courtesy Picryl Public Domain

In 1956 a child-sized monorail was installed in the fashion department, that hung from the ceiling. It was originally known as the Snowball Express. In 1965 it was moved to the roof of the building and a second car added. The front of the cars were pig heads and the rear car had a curly tale. They were known as the Pink Pig Flyers and received the names Priscilla and Percival in the 1970's. The original cars are now housed at the Atlanta History Center. A modern rendition of the Pink Pig now runs during the Christmas shopping season on the top of the Lenox Square Mall parking deck. It is a train, not a monorail. Rich's expanded to Lenox Square in 1956 and created the largest retail store in the United States at over 120,000 square feet.



photo courtesy Picryl Public Domain

In 1960, African American college students began to have sit-ins to protest segregation at the Downtown store. Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond later stated that "if Rich's went, so would everybody else." Though Rich's had been more tolerant than many Atlanta stores, the Magnolia Room restaurant was segregated. Dr Martin Luther King and several students were arrested there. By the fall of 1961 it desegregated and soon much of Atlanta followed.



photo courtesy Picryl Public Domain

In 1976, Rich's was purchased by Federated Department Stores, which ended its over 100 year history as a family owned business. In 1991 Federated acquired Macy's. This is also the year the Downtown Flagship Rich's closed. The crystal bridge was torn down in the addition to the Federal complex.  In 2005, the Rich's name completely disappeared.


Do you remember Rich's Department Store? What are your fondest memories of the holidays in Atlanta?

RPM Home Advisors | Keller Williams Midtown Atlanta
1420 Peachtree St NE #100
Atlanta, GA 30309
404.541.3555 (RPM Home Advisors)
404.604.3100 (Keller Williams Office)

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