Rich's Department Store was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1867 by Morris Rich, a Hungarian-born immigrant. The business expanded over several decades, and eventually was located on the corner of Alabama and Broad Streets in downtown Atlanta. In the 1960's and 1970's the store opened in several other locations. In 1948 a seventy-foot live Christmas tree was first placed on the roof of Rich's downtown department store. Thereafter, the Lighting of the Great Tree became an Atlanta tradition. In 1960, several African American college students protested segregationist policies practiced by Rich's until the store agreed to desegregate its stores in 1961. Rich's department store was phased out in 2005.
Rich's was a department store retail chain, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, that operated in the southern U.S. from 1867 until March 6, 2005 when the nameplate was eliminated and replaced by Macy's. Many of the former Rich's stores today form the core of Macy's Central, an Atlanta-based division of Macy's, Inc., which formerly operated as Federated Department Stores, Inc.
It began in Atlanta as M. Rich Dry Goods general store in 1867. The store was at 36 Whitehall Street, and was run by Morris Rich. It was renamed M. Rich & Co. in 1871, when his brother Emanuel joined him; it was again renamed M. Rich & Bros. in 1876 when the third brother Daniel joined. In 1872 it moved across the street to the corner with Hunter Street (now MLK Street), and in 1881 to 54 and 56 Whitehall Street, later adding 52 in 1906. In 1901 it became a true department store by dividing merchandise into separated sections, and was incorporated as M. Rich & Bros. Co. It became simply Rich's in 1924. Two innovative ideas that Rich tried were the barter system and a credit system.
Rich's 1906 building at 52-54-56 Whitehall, now 82 Peachtree St. SE, as seen in 2013
Daniel's son Walter succeeded his uncle Morris as Rich's president from 1926 to 1947, and was succeeded by the grandson of Morris Rich Richard H. Rich. Under the leadership of Richard Rich, affectionately known as Dick Rich, Rich's began expansion in the 1950's. Rich's had moved outside the Atlanta area for its first new store in 1955 when a store in Knoxville Tennessee was opened. Rich's opened its first suburban store at Lenox Square in 1959, Georgia's first shopping mall. The open-air mall shared space with the other major Atlanta department store, Davison's. That same year Rich's also opened a store at Belvedere Plaza Shopping Center, a large two-level strip mall in Belvedere Park near Decatur and more recently famous for its "wigs and beepers" store. Rich's sold off its Knoxville store to Miller's, as it re-focused on its Georgia stores.
East side of 1924 store, from northeast looking southwest
Two holiday traditions associated with Rich's were the Great Tree and the Pink Pig. Starting in 1947, the Great Tree, conceptualized by executive Frank Pallotta, was a massive pine, set on top of the multi-level glass skybridge connecting the main downtown Atlanta store with the Store For Homes across Forsyth Street. After the closure of the downtown store in 1991, the Great Tree, and the annual Thanksgiving evening tree-lighting festivities, moved to nearby Underground Atlanta. After several years of poor attendance, the Tree was moved to the top of the Men's Store at the Lenox Square location. This placed the tree on the corner of the mall closest to the prominent intersection of Peachtree and Lenox Roads. The tree lighting ceremony traditionally features country and pop music performers from Georgia, such as Kenny Rogers, several choirs from local churches, and a rendition of "O Holy Night" with the tree being lit by a child during the high note of the line "O night divine."
Closeup of northeast corner of 1924 store, from northeast looking southwest
The Pink Pig was a child-scaled monorail that originally circled the toy department in the downtown Store for Homes. After several years, it was moved to the roof of the Store For Homes building. The front car of the train had a pig's face, and the last car had a curly tail. The original train featured Priscilla Pig, while a second train added to the track was named Percival. For many years after the closure of the downtown store, the Pink Pig was set up at the Festival of Trees at the Georgia World Congress Center. During the Rich's-Macy's era, in an effort to show respect for the traditions of Rich's, a redesigned Pink Pig, this time a child-sized train rather than a monorail, was set up on the top level of a parking deck at Lenox Square mall under an enormous pink tent. The train ride takes children (and adults, who can now fit) through a storybook tale of Priscilla Pig. The original Pink Pig monorail cars are now at the Atlanta History Center where they are occasionally displayed.
In 1967, Atlanta Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley wrote Dear Store: An Affectionate Portrait of Rich's. In it, she mentioned notable acts by Rich's staff and management, including the cashing of scrip payments made by the City of Atlanta to its schoolteachers during a financial crisis, accepting returns of worn nylons during World War II shortages, and the efforts of their personal shopper service, "Penelope Penn," to find the perfect gift for thousands of customers who wrote to them. The title of the book comes from a letter in which a child offers to trade his younger sister for a toy that he wants.
The book also relates the story of Coretta Scott King, who chose to shop at Rich's for a coat when her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The salesperson advised Mrs. King not to buy a fur, because it would compare unfavorably to the extravagant furs worn by the Scandinavian attendees, instead selecting a conservative cloth coat for the occasion.
Rich's most aggressive expansion was during the 1960's and 1970's. Four more stores opened in the Atlanta area in the 1960's, two of those enormous three story full line stores. While this expansion resulted in continued success of the chain, it chipped away at the business of the downtown store. By this time, Rich's was the leading regional department store in the country, though it remained largely unknown by the general public outside of Georgia. This would soon change, however.
North escalator, 5th floor furniture department in 1924 store
Rich's Downtown Flagship Store. Part of Sam Nunn Federal Center.
Throughout the 1970's, four more Rich's locations opened in Georgia including one in Augusta, the first in the state outside of Atlanta. Rich's also began an aggressive expansion with stores in Alabama and South Carolina. Also, there were plans much later in the early 1990's to expand Rich's into Charlotte, but these were scrapped. Of all the stores out of state, stores opened in Greenville, Columbia and Birmingham with two (adding a third in 1986) in Birmingham, creating stiffer competition in the city against regional chains Pizitz, Loveman's and Parisian. This expansion also strained the company financially, and the sudden death of Richard Rich in 1975 threw the company into turmoil. It was rumored that the surviving descendants were incapable of running the company, and the store was ultimately sold out to Federated Department Stores (now known as Macy's, Inc.).
Crystal Bridge over Forsyth Street from 1924 building to 1946/1948 Home Store building, from north looking south
The sale to Federated ended over 100 years of ownership by the Rich family. Aside from the Great Tree, most of the traditions of Rich's and the departments (including the bakery) were all stripped away by the early 1990's. Loyalty to the chain, however, remained very strong even after the downtown flagship store was closed in 1991.
South side of 1946-1948 store for homes and 1958 service building, from southeast looking northwest
In 1994, the parent company of Rich's bought out Macy's, which was historically Atlanta's rival chain under the Davison's banner. The following year, Rich's was merged with Lazarus in the midwest and Goldsmith's in Memphis. Through the merged division, the chain grew in a corporate sense as it was operated out of Atlanta, but the Lazarus and Goldsmith's stores continued to operate under their regional names. The merger with Goldsmith's occurred in 1988 and Lazarus in 1995. Lazarus was one of Federated's founding store chains.
Closures of Davison's/Macy's stores
When Rich's and Macy's both were owned by the same company, this resulted in the overlapping of the two chains all selling the same products. Initially, both stores remained open with Macy's losing its higher-end merchandise and becoming distinctly downmarket when compared with Rich's. The decision was made in 2003 to close all of the former Davison's/Macy's stores in Atlanta (no new Macy's stores had been built in Atlanta since Town Center at Cobb in 1986) and co-brand Rich's as Rich's-Macy's. The only original Macy's/Davison's store to remain open is Northlake Mall - originally the downtown Atlanta store was to remain open, but a sudden change of direction by Macy's corporate closed the last major retailer in downtown Atlanta. The cobranded name change was intended to slowly phase out the chain instead of a sudden change so as to reduce the backlash over the elimination of an Atlanta institution that was one of the institutions that defined the city, similar to Marshall Field's in Chicago. As Macy's was a well-known part of the Atlanta retail landscape since its purchase of Davison's in the 1920's, loyal Rich's customers who defected to other stores were replaced by longtime Macy's/Davison's customers.
Rich's-Macy's logo, 2003-2005
The same year that Rich's and Macy's merged, the downtown Macy's (Davison's flagship store) was closed down. Also in the merger, the Lenox Square and Perimeter Mall Macy's (also former Davison's) became Bloomingdale's with the rest closed except for the Town Center Mall store, whose middle floor is now used as a Macy's Furniture store and also the upper floor is now used as a Macy's Furniture Clearance Center and the lower floor is now used as a Macy's Men's Store. The following year, when the Cobb Center Mall store closed, the furniture clearance center was also relocated there.
Rich's at Lenox Square 2007. Converted to Macy's.
In 1995, the downtown Atlanta Rich's store became part of the Sam Nunn Federal Building. The Store For Homes, the "Crystal Bridge," and a parking deck were torn down and replaced by a high-rise, a small building containing a McDonald's and other retail space, and a more substantial connector between the high-rise and the original 1924 Rich's building. The top floor of the 1924 building, a later addition of concrete and glass block not in the style of the original, was removed. An addition in the style of the original was built on the corner of Forsyth and Old Alabama Streets, which had been a park and previously the location of the offices of the The Atlanta Journal before its merger with The Atlanta Constitution.
Rich's at North DeKalb Mall 2007. Converted to Macy's.
Water tower on top of Atlanta Store
After 138 years, Rich's (as Rich's-Macy's) disappeared on March 6, 2005 along with the other historical nameplates "Goldsmith-Macy's", and "Lazarus-Macy's" were eliminated, with the stores renamed as the Macy's Central division of Federated. Macy's Central is the current division encompassing the former Rich's stores. A signature event of the store, Rich's Great Tree, continues as an annual Thanksgiving event in Atlanta at the Lenox location. The "Crystal Bridge" connecting the two halves of flagship downtown Atlanta store it earlier took place on was destroyed as part of converting the site to the Sam Nunn Federal Building complex. The tradition ironically continues as simply the "Great Tree", ignoring the name of the store that made the tradition famous. All former Rich's today continue to operate under the Macy's banner. Its Richway discount store chain, founded in 1968, was sold in 1988 to what is now Target Stores.
Rich's building at Cobb Center Mall. Now houses Imagine International Academy of Smyrna, a public charter school serving Cobb County.
Rich's Knoxville, Tennessee location. Now the University of Tennessee Conference Center.
Historical picture of Rich's in Downtown Knoxville in 1955.
Morris, Walter, Daniel and Dick Rich are all buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
Birth: Jan. 13, 1847
Death: Jun. 29, 1928
Businessman: Along with his brother Emanuel, founded Rich's Department Stores, which was one of the largest retail chains in the South.
Maud Goldberg Rich
Birth: Oct. 22, 1857
Death: Apr. 18, 1947
Wife of Co-Founder of Rich's Department Stores - very well known in Atlanta, Ga and in the South.
Born in Madison, Ga. Married to and shares marker with Morris Rich.
Note: Had daughters Rosalind b. 9/1880 in Ga., Valeria b. 3/1885 in Ga.
Businessman: With his brother Morris, he co-founded Rich's Department Stores, one of the largest retail chains in the South.
Suicide of Emanuel Rich
Emanuel Rich, a member of the firm of M.R. Rich Brothers, one of the largest dry goods and furniture house in the South, committed suicide at his home in this city at 7 o'clock this morning by cutting his throat with a fruit knife. (April 18, 1947)
Mr. Rich was well known in business circles through ou the South and in New York where he spent much time as buyer for his house. He ranked as one of Atlanta's most prominent and wealthy Hebrew citizens.
Investigation revealed the fact that Mr. Rich had stabbed himself thirty-six times in the breast and throat before death ensued. One of these blows penetrated his heart, and the other punctured his jugular vein.
The dead merchant was a native of Hungary, and forty-nine years old. He was an equal partner with his two brothers in the firm of M.R. Rich & Brothers. As the house enjoys excellent financial standings, no cause is known for the suicide, except nervous dyspepsia, from which the victum was a great sufferer.
Birth: Mar. 15, 1849
Death: Jul. 16, 1897
Bertha Sarturius Rich (1859 - 1923)
Birth: Jul. 1, 1859
Death: Mar. 14, 1923
Businessman. With his brother Morris, he co-founded Rich's Department Stores, one of the largest retail chains in the South.
Married to and shares marker with Emanuel Rich. Had son Walter, b. 1880.
|Children:||Rubye Rich Strauss (1882 - 1955)*|
Plot: Jewish Section (1878 Addition)
GPS (lat/lon): 33.44827, -84.22248
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Jun 03, 2000
Find A Grave Memorial# 9662
Burial in Oakland Cemetary ~ Atlanta, Georgia
M. Rich Dry Goods Founder
Morris Rich's Grave
Maud Goldberg Rich's Grave
Emanuel Rich's Grave
Bertha Sartutius Rich's Grave
All Rich's Buried In Oakland Cemetary
Atlanta's History Timeline
Rich's Christmas postcard (Christmas Card)
M. Rich And Company And Building