April, 1930. Photo provided by the George S. Bolster Collection

Starbucks Department Store

Written by Carol Godette, Photos Provided

For many Saratogians today, a downtown stop at Starbucks means a coffee and a chance to catch up with friends, but for 98 years a Broadway trip to “Starbuck's” represented something entirely different. The Starbuck's many longtime locals remember was akin to a “Mom and Pop” Walmart. It was a three-story, full service department store that sold everything from greeting cards to gloves, cosmetics to curtains, linens to lingerie, and scouting uniforms to sofas. Specialized services such as custom-made slipcovers and floor covering installation were also available. And of course free gift-wrapping was always included with any purchase. Even though the store
employed as many as 50 people, it was truly a family operation. Edgar Starbuck Sr. began the mom and pop retail operation with a cash only, dry goods store at 464 Broadway in 1885. The single floor store, dimly lit by kerosene lamps, had 6 clerks. Nine years later he acquired the buildings at 408-412 Broadway and expanded. Upon purchasing the property he incorporated his operations to four floors. After his death, his son Edgar Starbuck and daughter Kathyrn Starbuck were the majority stockholders.

The Carr family was also involved in the store from nearly the beginning. Three generations of the family were integral in the operations and success of the store. George Carr began working at Starbucks in 1889 as the treasurer. His son Rowland followed in his footsteps and in the 1950s grandson David R. Carr, Sr. became the manager and eventual owner. Great grandson David Carr Jr. remembers spending his evenings during the holiday season in front of a hand bow-making machine cranking out as many as 100 bows a night for the store’s gift wrapping.

Few local retail establishments represent changes in our personal shopping habits more than E. D. Starbuck and Company.  “Now we go online to shop, but you could go to Starbucks and get pretty much everything you needed,” reflects David Carr Jr.  As shopping trends changed, Starbucks tried to keep up with them.

The store’s success revolved around loyalty to its employees, customers and the community of Saratoga Springs. The owners were loyal to their 50 employees and the employees were loyal back. “There was no turnover,” states Carr. Nancie Garland Tyler manned cosmetics and cards near the store’s entrance for 25 years, Lillian Waite worked downstairs in furniture and draperies most of her life, and Elsa Emery ran the men’s department for 50 years. They acted as personal shoppers and hand wrapped purchases for free. Nancie remembers a local woman who phoned her every Christmas to describe the people on her list. Based on the conversation, Nancie would select each person a gift, wrap it, and have the store deliver the gifts for free.

The clerks were experts in the name brands they sold and in recognizing their customers as they walked in the door. “The most important thing anyone wants to hear is their own name,” former owner David R. Carr once quoted.

The owners loved Saratoga Springs and were very civic minded. They generously gave to the community. Nothing speaks more to their loyalty to our community than Edgar Starbuck’s resolve to rebuild the store as he watched it burn down in the infamous Broadway fire of 1957. Seven Broadway buildings were destroyed in the early morning hours of January 27, 1957. As Edgar Starbuck watched the flames destroy his store and its $100,000 inventory, his first concern was for the 50 employees that would be left jobless. He began rebuilding plans the next morning and two weeks later he submitted drawings to the Saratoga planning board for approval.

The new building was on the lot of 408 Broadway, leaving the lot to the north vacant for parking. (Today it is the site of The Washington Building). The community was thrilled to have a full service department store once again and most local businesses took out ads in the Saratogian thanking Starbuck for reopening. The Rotary even had a special ceremony in Starbuck’s honor dubbing him “Mr. Saratoga.”

Customers in turn were loyal. As a result of the fire, all the paper records went with it. In these pre-credit card days, Starbucks extended store credit to locals. The management did not know who owed what. “Fortunately, a good portion of people who owed money came to my father and said, ‘This is what I owe,’ and Starbucks was able to continue to operate,” reports Carr.

The October 1973 opening of Pyramid Mall greatly reduced foot traffic on Broadway. Five years later, the Carrs decided to become a furniture store. On January 6, 1978 they began a storewide clearance sale of all their non-furniture merchandise. And as they stated

in a full-page ad to the community, “Due to changing times .... and the reluctance of many manufacturers to supply the needs of smaller stores on a timely basis, we feel that a change in operation is essential.”

In 1983, the Carrs closed the store and sold the building to Ray Morris who relocated his restaurant Lillians to the once beloved department store location. The irony of another kind of “Starbucks” downtown is lost on all but lifelong Saratogians. SS

East Side Broadway

Photo provided by David Carr Jr. when the store transitioned from a department store to a furniture store.

Photo provided by David Carr Jr. when the store transitioned from a department store to a furniture store.

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