I first visited Gumps in San Francisco more than 25 years ago, and on every subsequent visit have made a stop at this sophisticated, specialty department store. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 3rd, to become another name on the list of dearly departed retailers, among which I include others such as Bonwit Teller, Charivari, and I Magnin.
Anyone I know who loves beautiful things loved Gumps. Its fine jewelry cases were always filled with interesting, beautifully crafted pieces. The tableware floor was divine. The space itself was inspiring. It was elegant without being intimidating, refined, yet friendly. Whoever bought for the store had a superb eye, and the merchandising and floor displays were always engaging. As a Gumps fan, I was fascinated to learn more about the store's history from National Jeweler magazine, which I have paraphrased here.
Gumps was founded in 1861 during the great San Francisco Gold Rush, when newly minted millionaires flocked to the store to buy instant style and respectability through the Old-World art, mirrors, and frames the Gump brothers brought back from their travels abroad. The story goes that Gumps added jewelry to its merchandise mix when Mrs Gump, who thought her husband was seeing a mistress on his buying trips to Europe, told him to take the jewelry she believed was a guilt offering down to the store and sell it.
The store that survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the Great Depression unfortunately has not been nearly as successful at surviving the current seismic shifts in retailing. Although it found some success in both catalog and e-commerce, which came to account for more than three-fourths of its business, it proved not enough to overcome the challenges facing many old-time department stores.
I have worked for St. Louis retail business owners my entire career, both in the world of shopping centers and jewelry. Although I am an avid internet shopper, I know and appreciate the value and benefits of shopping local, and shopping bricks-and-mortar. We are all evolving in our shopping habits, but there are many reasons to continue supporting our local merchants. I'll discuss this further in a future post. In the meantime, farewell to Gumps and thank you to those who made it such a wonderful shopping experience.