Frear's Troy Cash Bazaar

 
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FREAR’S TROY CASH BAZAAR, 1897

From 19th Century Dept. Store to 2020 Presidential Campaign HQ

 
 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Frear Building was home to Troy, N.Y.’s most prominent retail center.

Designed in 1897 by Detroit architect Mortimer Smith, the ornate 
building with marble and brick facades was the second home to Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar, owned by merchant William H. Frear.

Boasting 53 different departments, selling everything from clothing to candy, Frear’s employed more than 400 people conducting more than $1 million cash sales in one year.

Courtesy of Don Rittner

Courtesy of Don Rittner

Three arched marble entryways invited guests into a two-story ground-floor arcade, packed with merchandise, that lead to a four-story atrium capped by a large glass skylight. The centerpiece of the spectacular space was a  double stairway with marble steps and ornate cast iron railings made in the foundries of Troy. Matching cast iron railings continued around the edge of each level, which opened onto the atrium.

For decades, the staircase was a popular meeting spot for Troy locals. On the middle terrace of the stairs, a bronze plaque features a relief portrait of Frear, and states the original terms of Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar, written on March 3, 1865:

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One price and no deviation perfect satisfaction guaranteed or money cheerfully returned.
— William H. Frear
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These were novel terms for a time when haggling and store credit were common, while customer satisfaction was not certain.

Famed for his innovative marketing, Frear attracted customers from all the cities, villages and rural districts of Eastern and Northern New York, Vermont, and Western Massachusetts. Though he died at the age of 69 in 1910, the business continued until 1941, when it was taken over by the Rowley Department Store who kept the Frear name in use.

In the 1960s, the downtown retail districts of many small American 
cities were challenged by competition from new suburban enclosed shopping malls. Around the country, urban renewal schemes leveled block after block of historic urban fabric to make “shovel ready” sites for development that often never came. Troy’s city leaders eventually followed suit, demolishing several building-lined blocks in the core of downtown, displacing scores of businesses. After a decade, the large “hole” in Troy’s Central Business District was replaced in 1978 by the two-story Uncle Sam Atrium -- a suburban style shopping mall in an urban setting (today known as the “Troy Atrium”). While an across-the-street 
annex to the bazaar was demolished, the magnificent 1897 Frear Building survives to this day adjacent to the Troy Atrium, though with some alterations.

The ground floor of the original Frear Building atrium has been covered by a newer floor spanning the entire space, which is accessible from the second floor of the adjacent newer Troy Atrium. The first terrace and lower level of the Frear staircase was dismantled for storage. Now, the stairs begin one story up, along the southern wall. The glass skylight remains, though in need of repairs.

Frear’s was out of business by the 1970s. The open floor retail spaces were partitioned and converted into offices. With the exception of a street-level CVS pharmacy (that occupies a portion of the Troy Atrium and a portion of the Frear Building - with entrances from both buildings), retail was absent from the Frear Building until 2013 when two antique stores and a clothing shop opened on the ground level. An indoor plant store replaced one of the antiques dealers.

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In 2019, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, representing New York state, announced she would base her a 2020 run for president out of the Frear Building. A native of neighboring Albany, Gillibrand graduated from Troy’s prestigious Emma Willard School in 1984. When she is not in Washington, Gillibrand lives in Brunswick, a suburb of Troy.

This article was informed by the work of Troy City Historian Kathy Sheehan, author Don Rittner, and James Weise’s 1886 history, “The City of Troy and Its Vicinity.”


V Owen BushHistoric, AECComment