When it opened in 1911 on a 23-acre city block between Broad Street and Halsey Street in downtown Newark, the Hahne & Company department store was home to over 400,000 square feet of selling space on five floors. It contained more than two acres of plate glass windows, had a formal dining room (The Pine Room), and was arranged around a massive atrium that occupied the center of the building from the first floor through the fourth. It was dubbed “The Store With The Friendly Spirit.” Two thousand people worked there.
By the time I arrived at its employees’ entrance on a gray, snow-spitting day in February of 1988, hardly anybody worked there. Hahne’s was a vast gloomy cave that smelled powerfully of rotting carpet and draperies. To get to the advertising department, I had to walk up three deactivated wooden escalators to the fourth floor and across a vast open space littered with fallen ceiling tiles and lighting fixtures. The advertising department was located in the rear area of the fourth floor and occupied itself primarily with creating ads that ran in the Newark Star-Ledger and Bergen Record. The tagline at the foot of those ads read “Hahne’s, A New Jersey Tradition.” But it was a tradition on its last legs.