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Manhattan Stores Reported Closing

June 6, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Macy’s may no longer have to keep its secrets from Gimbels.

After 76 years of fierce but friendly competition, the Gimbels department store is reportedly leaving Herald Square to its neighbor across the block in one of New York City’s busiest shopping areas.

A six-month search for a buyer to operate the famous outlet and a branch store as department stores was fruitless, and the owner will sell both to a developer, The New York Times reported Friday. The newspaper said London and Leeds Corp. would buy the stores for more than $130 million.

″We have no offer from London and Leeds Corp. We have not sold the ... stores and we are still negotiating for the sale of those businesses with a number of parties,″ Gene Russell, manager of public affairs for Batus Inc., which has owned the Gimbels chain since 1973, said in a statement Friday.

The Gimbels-Macy’s rivalry gave rise to the phrase, ″Does Macy’s tell Gimbels?″ - a warning against giving secrets to the competition.

There are many theories on the origin of the slogan, but according to the book ″Macy’s, Gimbels and Me,″ by Bernice Fitz-Gibbons, comedian Eddie Cantor coined it.

Their competitive spirit was popularized with the 1947 movie ″Miracle on 34th Street,″ in which Macy’s Santa Claus steered customers to Gimbels for better prices or selection.

According to a Gimbels historian, who spoke only on condition that her name not be used, former company Chairman Bernard Gimbel was asked to play Kris Kringle in the movie but turned down the role. It was played by actor Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

Gimbels was started by a Bavarian immigrant named Adam Gimbel who wandered the Mississippi River peddling bolts of cloth and hairpins to frontier women and later opened a pot and lace shop near the Wabash River in Vincennes, Ind.

The first store to carry the Gimbel name opened in Milwaukee in 1887, followed by a store in Philadelphia in 1894.

Adam’s son Bernard - one of 14 children, seven of whom became the famous Gimbel Brothers - brought the name to New York in 1910. He built a 10-story emporium with three basement levels, boasting nearly a million square feet of floor space.

Bernard was convinced a large new store could compete successfully with Macy’s - in Herald Square since 1902 - despite the worries of his six brothers that it was too large a gamble.

Under Bernard’s leadership, new stores opened in several cities and the Saks Fifth Avenue chain was acquired in 1923.

Bruce Gimbel, the founder’s great-grandson, took over as chief executive of Gimbel Brothers in 1961. Before selling to Batus, he opened a second Manhattan store in the early 1970s in an attempt to cater to an affluent Upper East Side.

″But as Macy’s changed with the times and geared itself to a more affluent sophisticated consumer, Gimbels apparently didn’t quite get the signal,″ said Fabian Linden, director of the Consumer Research Center of the Conference Board, who said the merchandise remained ″dreary.″

In recent years Gimbels has run into financial difficulty from competitors like Macy’s who put greater emphasis on fashion and brand consciousness, as well as the growing number of discount outlets.

If it closes, Gimbels would join a number of department stores that have disappeared from New York City over the last two decades, including Korvette’s, S. Klein and Best & Co. The Times said 5,000 employees would be out of work in the metropolitan area if the Gimbels closings spread throughout the chain.

Kurt K. Kilstock, London and Leeds president and chief executive officer, said in a statement: ″We are considering a number of options, including the Gimbels stores.″

In January, Batus, of Louisville, Ky., which owns the 36 Gimbels stores in the New York area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, announced it would sell the company.

Batus is also reportedly negotiating to sell Gimbels stores in other areas. And the company announced Friday that two Gimbels outlets in Pittsburgh will close, one would be subleased and four sold by August.

Gimbels’ passing will bring a sense of loss ″to those of us who have been around long enough to remember the era when Gimbels was an instituion of New York life,″ Linden said. ″But yuppies will probably greet this event with a transcontinental yawn.″

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