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Parisian was a chain of department stores, founded in Birmingham in 1887 and sold by Birmingham-based Saks, Inc. to Belk Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina in 2006.


Parisian's 3rd Avenue flagship in the 1920s

The original Parisian store was founded in September 1887 by sisters Bertha Sommers and Estella Sommers Reinach under the name Parisian Dry Goods & Millinery Company. Its first location was a 90'x100' two-story brick building on the northwest corner of 1st Avenue North and 21st Street. The store offered imported and custom millinery and made-to-order clothing, with a specialty in the furnishing of bridal trousseaux.

The sisters moved the store three times before they sold it, in 1911, to Louis Gelders and G. W. Beringer, who renamed it The Parisian Company. In 1914 it was operating as the Parisian Dry-Block Co. at 1908 3rd Avenue North. Lauren Bloch, the store's general manager, bought it in 1918 and renamed it Bloch's Parisian.

Carl Hess, a German immigrant, and William Holiner bought the store in the early 1920s and moved it to a large building on the corner of 3rd Avenue North and 18th Street in Birmingham in 1928. The Great Depression pushed the company into receivership and near demise in 1932.

1937 store

Entrance to the 2nd Avenue store in 1939
Entrance to the 2nd Avenue store after the 1950 remodeling

The store moved into the remodeled Caheen Building on 2nd Avenue North and adjoining Roden Block in 1937. That remained the flagship store until 1989. The business eventually emerged from receivership and grew in the 1940s and 1950s under the management of Carl's son Emil. In October 1950 the store received a major renovation that included excavation of a storage basement and a mezzanine-level men's store. The new entrance, clad in plate glass and Alabama marble, featured the nation's first installation of "Pittcomatic" touch-action hydraulically-operated doors, as well as backlit plexi-glass and neon signage.

Hess and Lenny Salit (son-in-law of William Holiner) developed a popular interest-free credit program in the 1950s, and the store was one of the first in the country to offer free gift wrapping, free shipping and a liberal return policy.

Suburban expansion

Parisian opened a second store at Five Points West in 1963. Though expectation were low, their early foray into the suburbs was an immediate hit. The company opened their third store in Decatur, a fourth in Vestavia Hills in 1965 and a fifth, at Eastwood Mall, in 1969.

For many years the company's corporate offices and warehouse were located in a former Dolly Madison bakery adjacent to the railroad tracks at 26th Street and 11th Avenue North.

In the 1970s, Parisian added stores in Huntsville, Montgomery and Florence. Parisian's owners took the company public in 1983, raising $22.5 million for expansion. Parisian anchored several major mall developments, including Bel Air Mall in Mobile and Madison Square Mall in Huntsville, both of which opened in 1984. A second offering in 1986 raised an additional $18 million, allowing the chain to expand into Dothan, Pensacola, Chattanooga and Atlanta. The company opened a new headquarters office and distribution center in the Oxmoor West Industrial Park in 1988.

Also, beginning in 1988, artist Jon Coffelt was commissioned to paint over 100 original works for Parisian by store designer Jim Mitchell, helping launch the artist's career. Hooker Company, an Australian investor, bought Parisian layer that same year for $250 million and pledged $125 million for an aggressive store expansion.

Hooker filed for bankruptcy during the late 1980s economic downturn. Donald Hess, who had taken over operations from father, Emil, bought the Parisian chain back and, heavy with debt, sold a 45% interest to Lehman Brothers in 1990, which injected $35 million into the company. Parisian opened nine new stores 1992 and opened five more stores in 1993, stretching its footprint into Detroit and Nashville.

Proffitt's and Saks

Parisian joined Proffitt's Inc., in 1996. In September of 1998, Proffitt’s, Inc. and Saks Holdings, Inc. completed a merger transaction where Saks Fifth Avenue and its Off 5th outlet stores became the Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises division of Proffitt’s, Inc. At that time, Proffitt’s, Inc. was renamed Saks, Inc.

At its height, Saks, Inc. operated more than 250 mid-level to high end department stores under its Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises group, the Parisian division, the Northern Department Store Group (Younkers, Herberger's, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner's, Boston Store), and its Southern Department Store Group (Proffitt's and McRae's), plus more than 50 Club Libby Lu specialty shops. The Proffitt's and McRae's stores were sold in 2005 to Belk, Inc of Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 2006, Saks' Parisian division, headed by President and CEO Toni Browning, operated 38 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Particularly in larger markets, Parisian was placed in a marketing tier between the luxury-oriented Saks chain and the company's other more moderate nameplates.

Belk sale

In August 2006, Saks announced that Belk would purchase its Parisian division for $285 million, including all 38 stores, a 125,000 square foot distribution center on Lakeshore Parkway, and a 180,000 square foot distribution center in Steele. Belk closed the distribution center in Steele and converted all the stores to the "Belk's" nameplate in 2007, closing stores in some locations where both were represented.

When the sale to Belk was announced, Bayer Retail filed a lawsuit to block the change in the location at the Summit. Their primary claim was that Belk did not fit the lease agreement as a "first-class" shopping center. Both companies settled in April 2007 when Belk announced plans to make the Summit location a flagship store.

Parisian locations

Birmingham area locations

Other locations

  • Colonial Mall Decatur in Decatur
  • Wiregrass Commons in Dothan
  • Regency Square in Florence
  • Madison Square in Huntsville (1984-2006)
  • Parkway Place in Huntsville
  • Eastdale Mall in Montgomery (closed 2006)
  • Montgomery Mall in Montgomery (closed March 2006)
  • Bel Air Mall in Mobile (1984-2006)
  • Beechmont Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio (closed July 1999), and Forest Fair (closed June 1998)
  • Columbiana Centre in Columbia, South Carolina(closed February 2006), 95,000 square feet
  • Greenville Mall in Greenville, South Carolina (became Proffitt's in 1999; closed in 2004) 130,000 square feet
  • Arkansas (2 locations)
  • Florida (3 locations)
  • Georgia (9 locations)
  • Indiana (2 locations)
  • Michigan (3 locations)
  • Mississippi (2 locations)
  • Ohio (1 additional location)
  • Tennessee (4 locations)


External links