Its original owner, master merchant Henry Siegel, advertised this as âœThe Big Store: A City in Itself,â and even such a designation was an understatement. Its biggest crowd-pleaser was a marble terrace on the main floor with a replica in marble and brass of Daniel Chester French’s statue, The Republic, a hit at the recent Chicago World’s Fair. Jets of water accented by ever-changing colored lights played around the pedestal, making it impossible to miss and âœMeet me at the fountain,â meant only one thing to New Yorkers in the 1890s. Siegel’s store was among the first of its kind to sell food, and he pioneered the concept of giving away free samples to build sales. He also hired demonstrators to push everything from sheet music to can openers.
The store was among the first to be air-cooled, and the first to hire women as sales clerks. Changing habits among shoppers took them out of this neighborhood and, by World War I, Siegel-Cooper was converted into a military hospital. Retailing has come back to the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 18th Street, but it isn’t the same somehow. The statue that graced the fountain has been relocated to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.