It may be called Macy’s now. And even Macy’s is quite an old chain.
But Pittsburghers still remember and at times even refer to the big department store with the iconic clock at the corner of Smithfield and Fifth as the Downtown Kaufmann’s. That was the store — no, the institution — that kept its doors open for more than a century and whose name has been associated with many significant moments and personalities in Pittsburgh’s history. There was the Tic Toc restaurant, the ornate clock, holiday parades, the Secret Santa and the Kaufmann family.
Kaufmann’s first emerged in 1871 as a small men’s store in South Side founded by Jacob and Isaac Kaufmann. Six years later, the brothers moved their store location Downtown and it became known as The Big Store. The building has been remodeled multiple times, acquiring Neoclassical and Renaissance features over the years. It expanded and at one point became the largest department store in Pittsburgh with 12 retail floors that hugged the entire city block.
Kaufmann’s was more than just a store, though. It laid a foundation for many traditions, symbols and truly became a part of the Pittsburgh community. Its Christmas animated windows were the talk of the town. Its original brass plaques of the flagship department stores still decorate the building. Kaufmann’s clock this year has tick-tocked for a century.
Although the Kaufmann’s was acquired by the California-based May Company in 1946, the Kaufmann’s chain still operated under the leadership of Edgar J. Kaufmann. The loss of Kaufmann’s headquarters in 2006 after the acquisition by Federated Department Goods Inc., hurt Downtown Pittsburgh economically and emotionally.
The Big Store became a Macy’s. But people to this day still say they’ll meet under Kaufmann’s clock.