There was once a time when downtown Jacksonville was considered a premier shopping destination. Small shops and massive department stores lined its streets, often flanked by theatres or restaurants. Shoppers routinely walked from store to store and through Hemming Park, which served as somewhat of a center court for all of the activity.
Those days are long gone at this point, unfortunately, with many of the buildings that housed those stores having been demolished years ago. But many of the city’s longtime residents have fond memories of shopping downtown as children, before the days of shopping malls and suburban sprawl.
We’ve highlighted several of the grand department stores from downtown Jacksonville’s shopping era below, as a way of reminding present-day Jax residents how active downtown once was – and why we should fight to make it a hub of activity once again.
Launched by Leopold Furchgott and Charles Benedict, Furchgott’s first opened in downtown Jacksonville in 1869, making it the oldest of the downtown department stores.
Its original location burned down during the Great Fire of 1901, but a new, four-story building popped up shortly after along Main Street between Bay and Forsyth. The Furchgott’s name quickly became synonymous with luxury, as the retailer grew a reputation for its designer brands.
Furchgott’s sold clothing for men, women, and children, along with jewelry, cosmetics, linens, silverware, and more.
In 1941, Furchgott’s debuted a grand new building at the corner of Adams and Hogan streets – across from Levy’s, another high-end retailer. The new five-story, 70,000-square-foot building featured four floors of departments, top-floor office space, and a basement. It also had a candy counter on its ground floor.
As suburban malls began to rise in popularity, Furchgott’s branched out into other locations, which marked the beginning of the end for the downtown store. Ultimately, the chain ended up folding in the mid-‘80s, and its downtown store closed permanently.
Its former building has since been used as office space, a fitness center, and even a ‘90s-era punk rock club. It is currently home to Da Real Ting.
(An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to a merger between Furchgott’s and Stein Mart. A merger was discussed but ultimately fell through.)