South Florida

We miss you, Burdines. Here’s a look back at our love affair with the Florida store

.Visitors come early to view a Marine-life mural by the artist Wyland, on the side of Burdines in downtown Miami . The seven-story, 250 foot wide mural celebrates Burdines 100th anniversary and the International Year of the Ocean.
.Visitors come early to view a Marine-life mural by the artist Wyland, on the side of Burdines in downtown Miami . The seven-story, 250 foot wide mural celebrates Burdines 100th anniversary and the International Year of the Ocean.

Dear Burdines,

We miss you so.

We miss your Sunshine Fashions. We miss your Royal Palm restaurant. We miss your bright colors. We miss your Christmas decorations. We miss your presence in downtown Miami, Lincoln Road, Dadeland.

We miss everything about you.

Burdines, you were our department store, the Florida store, and we shed a tear when your name was folded into Macy’s and then disappeared.

FLASHBACK MIAMI: Photos of Burdines through the years

So what can we do about it?

We can remember you. We can read about you. We can savor old photos of you.

And so we will.

Here is a look back at you, Burdines, through the Miami Herald archives.

Love,

Your Loyal Shoppers

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Shoppers at the Dadeland Burdines at the Dadeland Mall. Patrick Farrell Miami Herald File

‘BRIGHT COLORS’

Published May 23, 2003

Early on, Burdines hitched its fortunes to its location.

In 1929, the Miami department store coined a phrase, “Sunshine Fashions,” and urged Florida’s winter tourists to arrive with “trunks empty” so they could fill them with bright and breezy vacation duds at Burdines.

The idea of a unique Florida style has driven Burdines’ marketing strategy ever since, establishing the company as the state’s biggest homegrown department store with 56 locations across Florida.

That’s part of the message, too: A Burdines shopping trip can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the country.

“Our colors were all bright,” said George Corrigan, 75, a longtime Burdines buyer and executive who left in 1983. “When you’d tour Macy’s, it was frankly black, gray and light brown.”

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Shoppers enter the Dadeland Burdines from the east end of the Dadeland Mall. Patrick Farrell Miami Herald File / 1998

The announcement Thursday by Federated Department Stores that it would marry the Burdines and Macy’s brands in Florida marks the most significant step away from the only-in-Florida approach that has defined Burdines for more than 100 years. The move will join “The Florida Store” with the New York retailer, whose annual Thanksgiving Day parade down Broadway officially starts the Christmas season in New York.

The Burdines story began at a Miami trading post in 1898 when John Burdine arrived at the swampy frontier town with instructions from his father, William, to start a store for the 7,500 soldiers getting ready to invade Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

By 1912, Roddey Burdine, William’s 23-year-old son, was in charge, and he built what seemed like a skyscraper at the time - a five-story tower with an elevator and air conditioning that is still part of the downtown Miami store.

Sales grew as the city evolved into a popular vacation destination, and Burdines touted itself with ads in Northeast publications as the outfitter of the tropics.

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January, 1954. Burdines in Miami Beach. Miami Herald File

When the song Moon Over Miami hit it big in the 1930s, the store brought out a clothing line bearing the same name. In 1946, it introduced the Tina Lesser strapless bathing suit, the first without stockings and formal hats. Shipping tropical fruits home for visiting customers became so big in the 1940s that Burdines opened its own packing house to handle the orders.

For its Sunshine Fashions, Burdines was careful to pick styles that were bold and bright enough to say Florida, but not so wild that they’d stay in the closet once the tourists got home.

“It wasn’t just super-light tropical clothing,” said South Florida historian Paul George, who has written a book on the Burdine family. “You could take them back with you up North.”

Burdines rode its tropical appeal as it expanded across South Florida in the prosperity that followed World War II. Fort Lauderdale was so eager for a downtown Burdines in 1946 that it sold the store its City Hall, then on Southwest Second Street, and moved three blocks down, George said.

Federated purchased Burdines in 1956, pumping fresh cash into the overextended chain and fueling an expansion that would spread across Florida in the next 30 years.

The 1970s and ‘80s saw Burdines spread north into Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota and other Florida hubs - expanding from 11 to 23 stores between 1977 and 1984.

But the march north - along with stiffer competition - also led to a dilution of the Burdines tropical look. Faced with marketing itself beyond South Florida, the chain turned more mainstream in 1990 by focusing on more national lines of clothing, George said. But the geographical identity remained. It is reflected in the current Burdines slogan: The Florida Store.

“Once you get away from Southeast Florida, it’s a lot harder to pitch that tropical fashion,” he said. “I think they’ve traded Sunshine Fashions in exchange for The Florida Store because there’s not a heck of a lot of sunshine in Tallahassee. But there’s a Burdines there.”

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Historian Seth Bramson, one of the authors of Miami Stories who has been collecting Miami artifacts for over 50 years, holds a Burdine’s employee hat given to him by a reader after reading his article. The photo was taken at his home Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Carl Juste Miami Herald File

BURDINES HISTORY

Published Sept. 28, 1998

1895: William Burdine and partner Henry Payne opened dry goods firm of Payne and Burdine in Bartow in Central Florida.

1898: William Burdine sent his son John Burdine to Miami with a load of men’s goods in a wagon to sell to the 7,500 soldiers at Camp Miami who were getting ready to fight for Cuba’s independence from Spain in the Spanish-American War. John Burdine opened a small, temporary store on Avenue D, today’s South Miami Avenue.

Sept. 1898: The Burdine family moved to Miami and opened W.M. Burdine & Son near the southwest corner of Avenue D and 12th Street, today’s Flagler Street. The frame shack was 1,250 feet and resembled a frontier trading post. The stock included work clothes, notions, piece goods and blots of calico.

1911: William Burdine dies and leaves the business to his sons. Roddey Burdine, then 23, takes over as president. The store then had 15 employees, contained 5,000-square-feet of floor space and grossed $250,000 in annual sales.

1912: Roddey Burdine built Miami’s first skyscraper. Initially, Burdines used only part of the five-story building, which is still part of the current downtown store. This was also Miami’s first store with air-conditioning and steel escalators.

1926: Opened the first branch store in the Roney Plaza Hotel at 23rd Street and Collins Avenue on Miami Beach, catering mainly to tourists.

1929: Introduced “Sunshine Fashions,” a brand of warm weather clothes that were the store’s own creations including distinctive fabrics and colors. This brand of distiinctive Florida fashion became Burdines’ trademark.

Dec. 4, 1929: The Boulevard store opened at 13th Street, but closed in 1932 at the peak of the Great Depression.

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Burdine’s department store on South Miami Avenue at First Street in 1933. Florida State Archives.

Jan. 10, 1936: Thousands came to the opening of the new Miami Beach store at Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue, including models flown in from New York. this is now the site of the South Florida Arts Center. Burdines would open the current store during the 1950s at 1675 Meridian Ave.

Feb. 15, 1936: Roddey Burdine , 48, died from undulant fever, which was acquired by drinking non-pasteurized milk from cows that had Bang’s disease. He was memorialized as the “Merchant Prince of Miami.” Willie Burdine takes over as president, while most of the daily operations are handled by George Whitten.

1938: The old six-story skyscraper on Flagler Street was torn down and a new store erected in its place. The expansion cost about $1.5 million. The elegant store had elevators operated by women with white gloves.

April 1941: Burdines bought Hatch’s Department Store in West Palm Beach.

1943: Willie Burdine becomes chairman of the board and George Whitten becomes the first president who is not a Burdine family member.

November 1947: Burdines opened its first Fort Lauderdale store on Andrews Avenue at the site of the former city hall and fire station.

1948: A five-story annex to the downtown Burdines was built on the west side of South Miami Avenue between West Flagler Street and Southwest First Street. Underground and overhead passageways connected it with the original Burdines store to the east.

October 1948: Burdines launches a mail-order service for Latin American customers.

1955: Burdines announces plans to build a $6 million store in Coral Gables, but after a lengthy zoning battle the company instead opts to build at what will become Dadeland Mall.

1956: Competition arrives when Jordan Marsh, a successful northeastern department store controlled by Allied Department Stores, moves into Miami.

1956: Burdines opens fifth store in North Miami at 163rd Street. The $10 million store was the “showpiece” of the shopping center, which at the time was boondocks. This would be the world’s first automated department store.

May 1956: Stockholders approve a takeover by Federated Department Stores. Burdines needs cash to be able to compete with Jordan Marsh. Shareholders received six-tenths of a share of Federated stock in exchange for each share.

1959: Burdines launches the Fete du Soleil, Festival of the Sun, a major fashion show combining modeling, music, theater and dance. It became an annual production that travelled around the state

October 1962: After five years of planning and construction, Dadeland opens. This marks the company’s sixth store.

October 1967: Westland Mall opens

October 1968: The stores at Dadeland, Westland and 163rd Street are opened on Sundays from 12:30 pm - 5:30 pm, upsetting the local clergy.

October 1969: The Men’s Grill at Burdines downtown store is renamed the Executive Grill and women are no longer restricted to entering before 1 p.m.

1970s: Burdines expanded beyond southeast Florida, adding stores in Orlando, Altamonte Springs, Clearwater, Tampa and Sarasota, with more to come.

1971: Dadeland becomes the nation’s largest suburban store in gross sales.

1970s - 1980s: Burdines is on a major expansion track opening stores across the state including Plantation, Boca Raton, Fort Myers, Cutler Ridge, St. Petersburg, Gainesville, Coral Springs and Boynton Beach.

April 1988: Campeau Corporation acquires Burdines in a hostle takeover.

1990: Federated Department Stores files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Early 1990s: The consolidation of Burdines, Jordan Marsh and Maas Brothers all under the Burdines name.

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Ian Burton, 48, owner of Ian Signs and Services repair the “Sunshine” neon sign on the exterior of the historic and former Burdines store (now Macy’s). CARL JUSTE Miami Herald File

DID YOU KNOW?

Published Sept. 28, 1998

Burdines used innovative ways to lure customers in 1908. The store would pay for a one-way railroad ticket for anyone who spent $25 and a round trip fare for anyone who spent $40. If you spent $15, you got an enlarged photo of yourself or a person of your choice.

The Orange Bowl was dedicated the Roddey Burdine Stadium in memory of Roddey Burdine, who took over the company after his father William’s death and is largely credited for its success.

One of THE social gathering places in Miami during the late 1920s was Burdines’ Tea Roof Restaurant, which had the largest canopy roof in the United States. It cost over $50,000 to build and had room to seat 1,000 people. It required a staff of 100 waitresses, busboys, cooks and helpers.

During the late 1920s, Burdines hosted its own women’s radio program on WQAM at 9:45 a.m. every day. The show included fashion news, household hints, interviews, classic recordings and a Burdines’ sales and shopping guide.

“Moon over Miami” is best known as a song, but it’s also a fabric that was made by Burdines and became the talk of the country.

Snow princesses were a special treat served only at Burdines’ restaurant: one or two scoops of vanilla ice cream covered with whipped creem, dotted with tiny silver candy balls and topped with a china doll about 1 1/2 - 2 inches tall. The whipped cream formed the gown of the princess, who was about six inches tall.

Burdines was among the first stores in 1914 to present live fashion shows.

Until the 1950s, the unofficial social register of Miami was kept in a book at the entrance to the main Burdines store. Customers would leave messages for each other like, “Let’s meet here Tuesday for lunch at 12:30 p.m.”

During the holiday season from 1950-1960, the overhead bridge connecting the original Burdines and the annex would be decorated with a giant neon Santa Claus and there would be mechanical rides and other amusements on the roof for the kids.

In 1936, Burdines was the first store in the south to have an “approved sales plan.” Prominent women and civic leaders previewed the merchandise and selected what would go on sale.

Burdines set the trend in 1946 for women’s bathing suits, when it introduced the Tina Lesser corselette strapless bathing suit. This was the first bathing suit without stockings and formal hats.

Burdines has played host over the years to a collection of celebrities including Liz Claiborne, Gloria Vanderbilt, Marty Martin, Esther Williams, Elizabeth Taylor and Elle MacPherson.

The sale and shipment of citrus and tropical fruit was such a big part of Burdines business that in the 1946 the store opened its own packing house.

From the 1940s through the 1980s, Florida teens vied for one of the enviable positions on the Burdines Teen Board. The teens would model in store fashion shows or work on the sales floor.

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Burdine’s window, 1937. Miami Herald File

IT STARTED AS A SHACK

Published March 6, 1996

Today’s Burdines displays all the trappings of modern department stores: sparkling glass counters with glitzy jewelry and glamorizing cosmetics, artistic settings of home furnishings, fashion clusters for the tall or petite, career- minded or disco prancer.

In such surroundings, it’s hard to imagine that the 47- store company dates back to a simple shack built in the middle of a South Florida swamp. But downtown Miami was little more than that when William Burdine opened a modest trading post in 1898 to serve troops stationed here for the Spanish-American War.

After the war, Burdine decided to stay, explaining his reasons in a 1903 letter.

“This is a tourist town, and large numbers of people from the North come every winter,” Burdine wrote. “You can see on the map that it is the southern gateway for Cuba, and South and Central America. I think it will be a very important seaport some day.”

At W.M. Burdine & Son, Burdine sold work clothes, shoes, notions and brightly colored cotton fabrics -- an item favored by the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, who were some of the early store’s most frequent customers.

Burdine had seven children with two wives.

And he had marketing tactics that could give the modern Burdines some ideas.

When competition appeared along the dirt road, William Burdine offered to pay one-way train fare to anyone who bought $25 worth of goods, and roundtrip fare if they spent $40, according to It’s Better at Burdines, a book on the company’s history by Roberta Morgan. Burdine offered customers enlarged photos of themselves if their purchases reached $15.

When William Burdine died in 1911, Roddey Burdine, one of his four sons, took the helm at age 24. Roddey Burdine is credited with leading Burdines’ transition from small trading post to a multistory, fashion-leading department store in urban Miami.

At the five-story downtown store he built soon after taking over, elevators were operated by women wearing white gloves. An afternoon orchestra and fashion shows promoted sales. Burdines was one of the first stores to bring in foreign merchandise, with its buyers going to Europe since 1928.

Roddey Burdine marketed his store’s merchandise as the precursor to summer fashions. He created the brand name Sunshine Fashions and bought ads in national publications, targeting the area’s growing cadre of winter visitors.

When Roddey Burdine died in 1936 at 49, he left a profitable downtown Miami store with about $5 million in sales. He also left a Miami Beach store, built in 1925 at the Roney Plaza Hotel and moved in 1936 to Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue.

“The key to his success, I think, was his attention to detail, and the fact he could get his employees to work hard for him, because they loved him so much,” said Miami historian Paul George, who is writing a book about the Burdine family. “He was a genius for merchandising, and it’s amazing how savvy he was about world trade and world economy.”

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Burdines in downtown Miami at Christimas time. Miami Herald File

Burdine was asked to run for Miami mayor and for governor, offers he turned down because he was too busy running his business, George said. He remained entrenched in civic life, though, and shared with others of his time, such as Miami Beach developers Carl Fisher and John Collins, an economic plan: Bring northerners to town.

When the Orange Bowl stadium was built in 1934, it was named the Roddey Burdine Stadium.

The downtown store he built, expanded and remodeled remains a downtown fixture.

From 1936 until 1956, Roddey Burdine’s brother, William Burdine Jr., and George Whitten, who had been Roddey’s right- hand man, ran Burdines, continuing Roddey’s legacy of a fashion-oriented, service-intensive department store.

They opened three more Burdines, in tandem with the population growth and urbanization of the area: in West Palm Beach, in Fort Lauderdale and at the Mall at 163rd Street in North Miami Beach.

But by the mid-1950s, cash flow had become tight.

As a Burdines buyer, “you’d be called in the office and told, ‘We can’t buy anymore,’ “ recalls George Corrigan, former mayor of Coral Gables, and a Burdines employee from 1950 to 1983.

And competition had come in: Jordan Marsh, with large corporate parent Allied Stores, opened a store just north of downtown Miami in 1956.

That set up the company’s merger with Federated Department Stores, a retail empire based in Cincinnati that was expanding into fast-growing areas, like South Florida.

The merger with Federated was approved in May 1956. Burdines shareholders were given six-tenths of a share of Federated stock for every Burdines share they held.

“After Federated bought it, our so-called money problems went away,” said Corrigan, then a buyer for the furniture division. “We had sufficient cash for inventory, for land acquisition, for store openings.

“We had more resources, so our business began to flourish,” Corrigan said.

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In July 1914, Burdines at 499 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. Miami Herald File

Federated sent in its own president, Alfred H. Daniels, and made Whitten chairman and chief executive. In 1960, he retired as CEO, and a year later retired as chairman.

Under Federated, Burdines opened its sixth location, the now-flagship store at Dadeland Mall, in 1962. It opened its store at the Westland Mall in Hialeah in 1967, with Corrigan as general manager.

“The store was self-standing for four years,” Corrigan said. “It had no mall, no neighbors. In fact, the cows were standing in the parking lot.”

As with many other locations, including Dadeland and Miami International Mall, the mall was built after the Burdines store.

Burdines’ strategy has been to buy more land than needed for a store, then sell the land to mall developers at a profit, said Richard McEwen, who joined Burdines as executive vice president in 1966, and was chairman from 1977 to 1984. Under his tenure, Burdines expanded from 11 to 23 stores.

“We bought well ahead of the actual development, and we always bought much more land than we needed, and then we sold the extra land to the developer, and we’d come at zero costs for us.”

By 1982, McEwen had moved the chain into Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Daytona Beach. Before he left, stores opened in Gainesville, Coral Springs and Coconut Grove’s Mayfair, a store that closed in 1991.

McEwen attributed Burdines’ fast-paced expansion to the free rein and generous capital support -- as much as $55 million a year -- afforded by Federated. But McEwen left before one of Burdines’ most trying times.

In 1988, Federated was taken over by Canadian-based Campeau Corp., which also had bought Allied Stores, parent of Jordan Marsh. Two years later, Federated filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, unable to digest the debt incurred in the aggressive takeover.

Campeau’s debt meant Burdines and the other Federated divisions had to lay off hundreds of workers, put store renovation projects on hold, and contend with jittery vendors -- some of whom cut off merchandise shipments. As part of the reorganization, two Burdines stores were closed, in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Federated emerged from bankruptcy in 1992, and Burdines got back on its expansion track, building more stores in Florida. The company plans five new stores and six store renovations by the end of 1998.

In the modern world, where it will celebrate one century in business, the company may cross another frontier.

“The Burdines concept could be transported outside the continental United States in the next four years,” Burdines President Michael Osborne said. “It promises to be a very exciting time for Florida and the Florida store.”

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