Abe Cohen stood on State Street during the spring of 1948 and looked at his big clothing store.
“Times certainly change,” he said, as the new Imperial Cloak Co. prepared for new customers.
Cohen had just invested $100,000 to renovate his business, located on State Street at Broadway in Schenectady. The grand reopening would be April 8, at noon.
Abe and his brother Joseph had been born in Austria. By 1898, the brothers were in Schenectady and running a custom tailoring shop for ladies on South Ferry Street. The Cohens began working at The Carl Co. around 1900, and stayed until they opened the Imperial in 1912.
The first store was tiny, measuring only 9 feet wide and 60 feet deep. Cohen said the business had three employees and a bunch of palm trees on the floor. “All the best places had palm trees,” Cohen told the Schenectady Gazette. “So we had them too.”
Cohen had remodeled his store in 1922, 1927 and 1941. For the 1948 job, palm trees were out but flowers — for both the exterior and interior — were in. “Plenty of color I wanted, plenty of color I got,” said Cohen, who was in his late 60s in 1948.
The biggest change was probably the grand staircase within the core of a gallery rotunda. The second floor was designed around the staircase opening. And there was now air conditioning, large fitting rooms, double mirrors and fluorescent lights. The Jay Jewelry store retained its spot on the first floor.
The day before the opening, other Schenectady stores bought advertisements wishing the new Imperial luck. Among the pals were competitors Wallace’s and The Carl Co. Schenectady Hardware & Electric took out an ad, and used the space to also mention the company had installed the Imperial’s new wiring system.
Abe’s sons Bernard and David were now key parts of the operation. And the Imperial had 60 employees on the job.
Furniture store opens
April of ’48 was a big month for Schenectady’s downtown. The week after the Imperial showed off its new look, the Standard Furniture Co. opened at 121-129 Broadway.
The Imperial closed 1981 and was operating as OTB’s Imperial Racing Center by the mid-1980s. It is now the site of restaurant Mexican Radio.