Alexander’s was an American department store chain in the New York metropolitan area. Catering to middle-income consumers, Alexander’s offered discounted designer fashions and high-quality private label goods. At its height, the company operated 16 stores. Its advertising slogan was “You’ll find Alexander’s has what you’re looking for; how lucky can you get?!” The company still exists as an REIT controlled and managed by Vornado Realty Trust.
Alexander’s’ most famous locations, perhaps, were on Lexington Avenue and 58th Street (across from Bloomingdale’s) in Manhattan, on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, at The Mall at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, along Queens Blvd. in Rego Park (Queens), and in Paramus, New Jersey. Upon completion in 1974, Alexander’s became the anchor tenant for the new mall located on the concourse level of the World Trade Center complex. It took up roughly 1/6 of the 500,000 sq ft mall, the largest in New York City, and was located underneath 4 World Trade Center, immediately to the east of the south tower. Like the rest of the chain, it closed in 1992 and the lease was sold. The Paramus location was known for a world-record setting large mural painted by Stefan Knapp (see below).
The chain was founded in 1928 by George Farkas, a Brooklyn native who opened a store on Third Avenue in the Bronx and named it for his deceased father. The store managed to thrive during the following Depression, and another location was opened at Fordham Road (also in the Bronx) in 1933. Post-war prosperity further increased the company’s fortunes, and led to a steady increase of locations throughout the area.
The company’s hold on the marketplace began to slip in the 1970s, as customers defected to larger competitors and specialty retailers. In 1980, Interstate Properties took a major stake in the ailing chain, seeking to convert its real estate to more profitable ventures. Throughout the 1980s, Alexander’s management struggled to expand the retailer’s offerings beyond leisure apparel, but was often distracted by real estate sell-offs, and the stores’ physical appearance and merchandise quality suffered. The company made a last-ditch effort to modernize in the early 1990s by expanding its activewear, electronics, housewares, sports equipment, and toy departments. It also began to update its infrastructure by replacing aging mechanical cash registers which could no longer be repaired with computerized registers (an earlier attempt in the 1980s had failed due to poor planning). These changes came too late, and Alexander’s finally declared bankruptcy in 1992 as debts to vendors mounted and inventories dwindled.
After being reorganized into a real estate company, Alexander’s began selling off its valuable properties to developers (the company had owned all the real estate its large stores sat on aside from the World Trade Center location). Vornado, a realty trust firm (which itself in a previous form was another discount department store chain, Two Guys), bought a controlling share of Alexander’s at bargain prices and refocused the company on development of its land holdings.
Alexander’s’ Paramus, New Jersey store, located at the crossing of New Jersey Routes 4 and 17 near Westfield Garden State Plaza, was famous for a mural painted for the store by Polish artist Stefan Knapp. George Farkas commissioned Knapp to paint the mural for the store, who did so after seeing Knapp’s work at Heathrow Airport in London. At the same time, however, Spanish artist Salvador Dalí had been commissioned to do a mural for the store as well and after he learned that Knapp was also hired to paint a mural, he demanded that he design the piece and Knapp paint it. Knapp refused, and a compromise was reached where Dalí received his commission payment for not doing any work and Knapp would continue to compose the piece and two additional murals. When it was completed in 1961, the mural was the largest in the world, measuring 200 feet by 50 feet and weighing over 250 tons. It is still believed to be the largest, although no study has been done to corroborate that according to North Jersey Media Group as of 2012.
After Alexander’s went out of business in 1992, the mural remained on the closed store until 1996. At that time, since no buyer had emerged for the property, Vornado elected to demolish the building so a new retail complex could be built on the land. On his way to work one morning Will Roseman, mayor of the Bergen County borough of Carlstadt and a fan of the mural, saw the demolition and contacted Vornado chairman Steve Roth, who gave him a week to come up with a plan to save Knapp’s work. Roseman contacted Sotheby’s, who appraised the work, then was able to find a non-profit group to take possession of the mural enabling him to use the moving costs as a tax write-off for Roth. The Bergen Museum of Art & Science became the mural’s caretakers and the piece was disassembled and stored in the Carlstadt municipal garage. Various suggestions have been made for its location, including American Dream Meadowlands in neighboring East Rutherford and Bergen Community College in Paramus.
In June 2015, pieces of the mural were put on display at the Art Factory in Paterson, New Jersey. The hope was to have the mural completely reassembled for the exhibition, which was attended by George and Ruth Farkas’ granddaughter Cindy Glanzrock among others. However, twenty pieces of the mural remained in their storage facility in Carlstadt as Roseman would not allow the Art Factory’s owner, David Garsia, to display them as he did not trust his intentions. As such, the mural was laid out in rows, with some having specific themes.