Hudson's, the King of Woodward Ave's Glory Days
July 23, 2005 9:15 PM   Subscribe

"A world within a store": For decades, JL Hudson's was the soul of downtown Detroit. A commercial giant housed in a mammoth structure, the legendary store was a symbol of the city's heyday and a Midwestern icon, but much more to the millions who shopped there. The growth of suburban malls killed Hudson's flagship store in 1983, and thousands of nostalgic Detroiters lined the streets to see it demolished fifteen years later. "The store is a habit, an institution, a tradition, an emotion, or all of these, depending on which Detroiter you talk to. It's regarded as a member of the family in countless homes." Macy's, eat your heart out.
posted by sellout (16 comments total)
Shame on you for forgetting the Hudson material at the in-dire-need-of-better-navigation-yet-still-fucking-awesome Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.
posted by keswick at 9:40 PM on July 23, 2005

It really is a shame.
I love big old department stores like that.
Much better than a soulless mall.
posted by madajb at 12:20 AM on July 24, 2005

As if Hudsons were a legend limited to Detroit. The legend extends over all southeast Michigan. Funny, I've not thought of Hudsons in decades. The mention alone brings back memories.
posted by Goofyy at 12:24 AM on July 24, 2005

I remember hating to go to the big Hudson's in Detroit as a kid. Way too much shopping for me. They did have amazing animated displays at Christmas though.
posted by substrate at 5:41 AM on July 24, 2005

Wow, I' don't recall ever hearing of Hudson's. Interesting post.
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 9:07 AM on July 24, 2005

Those pictures of the street-level display windows immediately took me right back there!

Near those windows by the main doors, there was always a sidewalk vendor selling roasted chestnuts, popcorn, and other goodies from a red vending cart, billowing with steam. (That's the only time I ate chestnuts.)

I was also regularly greeted by Krishnas in white robes, bald except for ponytails, playing tambourines and singing.

I was raised on 4th and Grand River, walking distance from Hudson's. My older sister and brother and I would walk to Hudson's many days during the summer. Our trips almost always included a stop at the Stroh's ice cream parlor, as well as the Fox Fun 'n' Magic shop run by the talented but cranky professional magician Roy Kissel.

In 1972, at 11 years old, we moved about 10 miles out (near Livernois and Warren), but I went to high school at Cass Tech. Again, walking distance from Hudson's. Many days, instead of going straight home after school, I would walk to Hudson's and browse, then take the city bus home. I still have a wooden chessboard I bought there in 11th grade. I never collected coins, but would always visit the coin and stamp room; thousands of rare coins, bills and stamps under glass countertops. I also bought cacti and succulents there, as well as a venus fly-trap. They had everything you could imagine, and more.

Thanks for the memories, sellout. That first link will keep me busy for hours!
posted by The Deej at 9:45 AM on July 24, 2005

My mother took me when I was very young. We took the bus and always ate ice cream at Saunders.It was my mothers' church. Everyone was so optimistic. The promise of material abundance and the flavor of the old world still noticeable. It is still vivid in my memory. This post brought me entirely back there.
posted by JohnR at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2005

Keswick beat me to it with the awesome link.

If you haven't yet, check out the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit. I've got an actual tear in my eye as I type this (I grew up in the burbs outside Detroit).
posted by selfmedicating at 10:21 AM on July 24, 2005

Hudson's was where the real Santa was. They'd close off an entire floor every year. Part of it was the pics with Santa part. Part was a parents' lounge. The biggest part was the kids' shopping area. Low tables, grandmotherly sales women, no parents allowed. You had an envelope pinned to your shirt with payment and a list of who you could buy presents for.

It was the first thing I was allowed to do as a young child without a parent or relative. Being able to buy a present that could be a surprise when I was only 4 or 5 was amazing, and made me feel very, very important.

When I got older, I went to downtown Hudson's for the classical music section, as well as general shopping. They had some foreign foods, which was rare outside of ethnic enclaves. Real shopping was done at downtown Hudson's, important shopping. The chandeliers on the first floor, the old fashioned elevators with attendants, the restaurant on the top floor, the wide aisles, all of these added class to your purchases, even if, towards the end, there were no longer as many unique things.

The year I graduated from High School was the year it closed. The downtown store was still profitable, just not as profitable as they wished it to be. I went down for those final sales, and it was obscene. I was in shock. True, more and more suburbanites refused to go downtown. But the city was coming back. It had to.

It didn't. When they closed Hudson's, the surrounding shops closed. Brooks Brothers left the nearby Penobscot building. There was no longer any shopping to bring me in from the suburbs (although I still went to the city for museums, the orchestra and the main branch of Detroit Public Library).

I have not bought anything from a Hudson's since. Easy now, since they are all Marshall Field's, but I even stopped shopping in Marshall Field's (despite happy memories of the downtown Chicago flagship store) after they bought J L Hudson's. I still feel betrayed.

Hudson's was one of the things that made this white suburban kid fall in love with the city of Detroit. When I moved back here, after college, I moved into the city. Detroit is a hard city to get to know. It is worth the effort. The J L Hudson's Company made it even harder to get to know when they closed a profitable, lovely old store.
posted by QIbHom at 10:43 AM on July 24, 2005

wiki: daguerrotype, Louis Daguerre, diorama
By the by, there's collections of Lewis Carroll, Gone With the Wind and the 'Woodstein' papers among a few other things at that U of Texas site.
posted by peacay at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2005

ooops :)
posted by peacay at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2005

I remember the ornate charm of that building very vividly from when I was four years old and my family had just moved to Detroit.
posted by mert at 1:25 PM on July 24, 2005

And now the parent of Macy's is getting ready to do the same thing to Marshall Field's here in Chicago.

Same memories of Santa, great deals and tradition.
They are saying they want to rename the stores Macy's...uugghh

Wiki here
posted by stevejensen at 4:15 PM on July 24, 2005

"Fuck Hudson's" - The MC5
posted by jonmc at 7:23 PM on July 24, 2005

At one time, Hudson's had the largest flag in the world, which they used to display on the outside of the downtown Detroit store.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:44 PM on July 24, 2005

One of my favorite David Allen Greer commentaries is the one where he talks about the mini zoo they set up in the kids department. They had monkeys and a couple other "wild" animals that the kids could watch while being dragged around for back-to-school shopping. My mom tells the same story and I always thought she was lying. Nice that I believe a man I have never met over my own mother.
posted by blackkar at 6:44 AM on July 25, 2005

« Older davy jones' locker   |   Virtual Earth from MSN Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments