If you grew up in or around Detroit, chances are you went to Hudson’s at some point for the holidays, maybe even taking a photo on Santa’s lap. In honor of my own memories of my grandmother who often took me to Hudson’s, here’s the best I could find about this legendary Detroit store.
Wikipedia’s Hudson’s entry relates that was founded in 1881 at 1200 Woodward Avenue by Joseph L. Hudson. The store operated for 102 years at that location and also opened a number of branches across the region. After closing the downtown store on January 17, 1984, the company merged into the Dayton Hudson Corp. On October 24, 1998 to make room for Ford Field, the 439 foot tall, 2.2 million square feet J.L. Hudson Building became the world’s largest building to be imploded.
Probably the best page to check out is How J.L. Hudson changed the way we shop from The Detroit News. It looks at how the canny store owner bucked popular wisdom by siting his store off the main drag of Jefferson and used publicity stunts like their signature gint flag and sponsoring a Thanksgiving parade. His moves paid off and:
By 1953 the 49-acre store had 12,000 employees and was making 100,000 sales per day. It used as much electricity as the city of Ypsilanti. It had a legendary delivery force of 500 drivers and 300 trucks. It boasted five restaurants which made 14,000 meals per day. The Hudson’s Maurice salad delighted lunchers for many years, its recipe a closely guarded secret until the store bowed to thousands of requests and made it public.
Despite warning signs, the downtown store hung in there. In 1961, the 25 story building was the world’s tallest department store. It had five basements, 51 passenger elevators, 17 freight elevators, 51 display windows, 706 fitting rooms, 2 million square feet, and 5,000 drafty windows. And the customers loved it.
In 1962, the store had two $1 million dollar sales days, topping the branches. In 1963, the founder’s great-nephew, Joseph L. Hudson Jr. took over and opened the store’s fine art gallery and a fine wine department.
Something I didn’t know was that Hudson was one of the first to reach out to minorities and in 1960 hired the city’s first black bus girl, a Cass Tech student by the name of Diana Ross! Click through for much more including a great photo gallery!
On their J. L. Hudson Department Store in downtown Detroit, Detroit Yes writes that the abandonment of the store in the early 80s was the death knell of downtown Detroit. The Department Store Museum page for Hudson’s – yes, Virginia, the internet has absolutely everything – has a listing of all the store departments by floor along with photos of the Woodward location and branch stores across Michigan.
You may also enjoy this slideshow of Hudson photos which showcases the incredible energy the store put into creating displays.