Holiday shopping at J.L. Hudson’s in Detroit

Hudson's detroit
Hudson’s detroit, photo by Detroitmi97.

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.

Check this out bigger and in Mark’s old detroit slideshow. He also has this view from above of the exterior of Hudson’s.

16 thoughts on “Holiday shopping at J.L. Hudson’s in Detroit

  1. Such happy memories this brings back! I grew up in Tawas City, but we always spent Thanksgiving weekend at my Aunt’s flat in Detroit. Dad would take us to Hudson’s and we’d ride the escalators up to the 12th floor to see Santa and all the toys. We were always on our best behavior because the Downtown Hudson store was so sophisticated and glamorous compared to anything we had back home!


  2. Small correction: The store site is now occupied by an underground parking garage – not Ford Field. The wikipedia entry says that a Hudson’s warehouse on Brush was incorporated into Ford Field (which I did NOT know).

    The store directory you linked to is utterly amazing. How much of this stuff can be had on A lot, to be sure, but to imagine it all on display in one location… The store actually sounds like a mega-mall built vertically!


  3. Thank you for sparking memories for me during my childhood growing up in the detroit area. Hudson’s and Christmas were like Macy’s and Thanksgiving!! I love this blog, even though I don’t get to visit very often. When I do, everything that is mentioned is a memory for me and I feel so blessed to have had my first 18 years growing up in such a beautiful state. I left and went to California for 30 years and now live in Texas…. again, I thank all involved in this blog for your beautiful, stunning photographs. ~Cheryl


  4. I never got to go in Hudson’s when it was a functioning store. However, several years before the demolition, the ground floor was opened up for holiday discount shopping, and it was really sad to go in there and see the looming hulk of a building, all closed off except for part of one floor.


  5. I went to Hudsons every year from the early 50’s until 1960 and have never forgotten. The polished brass and chrome gleamed and the employees have never been matched for their service.The 12th floor was a fantasy land.The delivery men were our friends and always had a candy for us kids.It is gone but never forgitten.Thanks for the memories.


  6. hi there, a few fyi’s. the company merged with daytons way back in 1969. also the ford field site for the new football stadium is the site of the former hudson’s warehouse, not the store. j l hudson’s first store began in the building of the detroit opera house south of the 1201 woodward site which eventually became its headquarters. thanks


  7. I have a safety deposit key fob in brass with JL HUDSON DETROIT on the front and on the back a no T 1397. How do I find out more info about this. My great Aunt lived in USA for many years.


    1. What you have is a credit tag for key and preferred customers. Before plastic cards, if you showed that tag to a cashier when you made a purchase, it would be charged to your account.


  8. Great memories of J. L. Hudsons! My mom worked in the makeup department and my father worked dressing displays and then went into sales. This is where they met in 1958! As children, my sisters, brother and I loved the store, especially at Christmas! If you have never seen their display, you don’t know what you were missing! The workmanship was out of this world! The other highlite was riding on the elevators! They actually had operators! Great times and cherished memories, for sure!


  9. Started working at the soda fountain on the mezzanine in 1959. Worked with men who had been there 20 years, bought homes, and raised their kids on the Soda Jerk income. We worked HARD and they advanced you based on how HARD you worked. It was a classy place. The Riverview room on the highest floor saw the Ford family as regular guests. The store was killed by a decline in customers who would not brave the crime and corruption of the downtown area. Theft from the store was rampant. Malls began to emerge in the suburbs and they made focused shopping easier with Sears and others undercutting Hudson prices. I went off to the Army and left Detroit never to return except on a visit to family now and then. Great memories of a time which will never return. Remember when sales people were experts on what they sold, elegance was expected, FIRST Class was the norm. Now we go to Costco and buy things we could never have afforded back in the day. We do our research on line and understand the people in the stores we visit are minimum wage and can hardly run the register much less explain the finer points of a product. Now we shop on Amazon and get things delivered in two days with a liberal return policy. Delivered NOT by the Post Office but by UPS who KNOW how to make a profit. Mom and Pop stores are a thing of the past. I remember a meeting held when GE was shutting a plant that made irons. The company reps were verbally abused by people in the audience accusing them of “going to Mexico” for cheap labor. Finally one of the reps asked the crowd “how many of you drove here in a foreign car not American made, how many of you shop at big box stores and demand the very lowest prices, not local small stores”? The crowd was not happy. Most were Union and they knew in their hearts the Union demanded high wages, full benefits and allowed featherbedding of jobs. We reap what we sow.


  10. Thank you for refreshing my wonderful childhood memories of the J. L. Hudson experience. I will treasure them always,
    Sebring Florida Hudson experience.


  11. I worked at Hudson in 1955. Selling men’s shirts on the first floor growing up my friends would spend Saturdays looking around the store I could walk there from my home I was so sad to see it go


  12. Hudson’s was a Gift to the folks in Detroit and area. You dressed to go to Hudson’s. When I was a little girl, Dad and Mom took me to Hudson’s to see Santa and have lunch on the 13th floor. This was a treasured gift. At age 17 and going into the 12th grade, I was hired on part time. These years were and are still cherished memories.


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