January 17, 1983 was the last business day for downtown Detroit’s J.L. Hudson Department Store.
The building at 1206 Woodward stood 25 stories tall and took up an entire city block, fronting on Woodward, Gratiot, Farmer Street and Grand River Avenue.
At one time billed as the second-largest department store in the world in terms of square footage (behind Macy’s in New York), the downtown store was long a beacon for shoppers. You could buy anything from bureaus and fur coats to coin sets and oil and vinegar cruets on display throughout the 49 acres of sales space. Elegance was paramount.
Hudson’s — which had a bakery and a lending library — was famous for its classy female elevator operators and its Maurice salad. Its best year, 1953, saw $153 million in sales, compared with $45 million in 1981.
The store’s slow decline was blamed, in part, on the growing allure of suburban retail destinations, including the first suburban shopping center in the U.S., Northland in Southfield, which was built by Hudson’s.
Historical Society of Michigan
Zlati Meyer, “Hudson’s landmark downtown Detroit store closes”, Detroit Free Press, January 13, 2013.
Dan Austin, “The rise and fall of Hudson’s Big Store in Detroit’, Detroit Free Press, March 4, 2015.