Past and Present: Fortunoff’s

Postcard advertisement from the 1950's

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Fortunoff’s began in 1922 as a neighborhood housewares store on Livonia Avenue in Brownsville East New York. Founded by Max and Clara Fortunoff, the store soon grew from one storefront in this working class Jewish neighborhood, to eight storefronts, all on Livonia Avenue, under the El train, offering customers household goods, furniture , kitchen merchandise and gift items at high quality with great prices. In 1957, they started to carry jewelry, as well, greatly expanding their business. In 1964, the company, like most of the neighborhood, left Brooklyn for the suburbs, relocating to a new superstore in Westbury, Long Island, to a new suburban shopping experience called the Shopping Center at Roosevelt Raceway.

By the 1970’s the store was one of Long Island’s better known stores, and they soon expanded to another store in Paramus, NJ, and a flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. By the 1980’s, and into the early 90’s, they had several other stores in the suburbs of New Jersey, and had become a household name in the New York area because of an ad campaign with actress Lauren Bacall, with her signature husky voice proclaiming that she shopped at “Fortunoff’s – the Source.” The store was now famous for its high end china, silverware and other home goods, as well as a swanky jewelry emporium.

But, as we all know, a store’s glory days rarely seem to last long, and by 2008, the Fortunoff and Mayrock families, the descendants of Max and Clara, sold the majority interest of the chain to two private equity firms, and by 2009, the company went bankrupt, closing the stores and liquidating assets. The Fortunoff families bought back the intellectual property rights, and today sell their collection of jewelry on line, and their backyard furniture lines through other retailers, as well as on line. The Fortunoff name still lives on.

However, the old neighborhood did not fare as well. Time was not good to Brownsville East New York, as it became one of Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods. Today, the buildings where Fortunoff’s once stretched for almost half a block are some of the few remaining structures on that part of Livonia Avenue. Blocks of empty fields face these stores. The photograph from the 1950’s shows part of the original storefronts, with classic Colonial décor, which at the time would have denoted American class and wealth. Today, that quality is sorely needed in the same location. GMAP

Postcard advertisement from the 1950's

Photo: Google maps

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