G. Fox & Company Department Store – Hartford, CT
Shopping at the Great G. Fox & Co.
As a child growing up in Connecticut, nothing compared to trips with my mother to the department store, G. Fox & Company at 960 Main St. in Hartford, Connecticut. This grand institution was a family-owned, first-class department store, established in 1847.
G. Fox & Co. was a cornerstone of the Connecticut economy when we shopped there in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I was unaware at the time that this store, which had once been the largest in New England, was soon to begin its decline. The original Fox family had sold the store to the May Department Stores Co. in 1965.
But in its heyday, before the invasion of malls, G. Fox was THE store at which to shop. Within its 11 floors (plus a basement, sub-basement and mezzanine), you could find whatever you needed. There were clothing departments for men, women and children, books, music, makeup, jewelry, art supplies, housewares, a fur salon and a stamp department for collector stamps. And the service was exceptional.
A highlight of any shopping trip with my mother was stopping for lunch at the 1950s lunch counter, which I believe was on the 6th floor. The restaurant was done in a classic diner style and had been preserved through renovations. There were booths to sit at, but I liked to sit on the chrome and leather stools that were fastened to the floor. I remember getting the best egg salad sandwiches there. It’s funny – I don’t remember the desserts, but I do remember the egg salad sandwiches.
My mother and I would make all of our usual stops at all of our favorite departments. The store was so beautiful to shop in, with its Art Deco design. The main floor was especially beautiful, with its high ceilings and marble floor. There were eight passenger elevators. I remember taking one from the main lobby that was driven by a male uniformed elevator operator. There were also female attendants in the immaculate, black and white tiled ladies’ room.
You were so pampered at G. Fox that you didn’t even have to carry your purchases. You could have them delivered to your home the next day on the G. Fox truck, free of charge. I also remember my mother calling the store and having things delivered on approval. If it didn’t fit, or she just didn’t like the item, the truck would come out and pick it up, free of charge. (We lived in a suburb of Hartford approximately 11 miles from the store.)
The most spectacular time to visit G. Fox was during the Christmas season. The main floor was filled with poinsettias and there were old fashioned (yes—religious!) Christmas carols playing. The excitement and joy of the season made the air electric, as display cases brimmed with stylish and quality merchandise. But the real excitement began when Santa took up residence on the 11th floor. Every year, while we were young enough to appreciate it, my three brothers and I were taken to the Toy Department. We would admire all of the unique toys and compile our Christmas wish lists. (As I recall, we would be allowed one expensive item from G. Fox to complement the stack of more standard games and toys selected from some place like Sears or, later, ToysRUs.) I generally picked out a beautiful doll, but one year it was a stuffed white angora cat. I don’t ever remember being disappointed by not receiving this special item on Christmas morning.
Once we perused the toys, we got in line to enter Toyland – with its winter scenery – to wind our way up to where Santa was seated. Once there, we met Santa and asked him for something special and got our picture taken with him. Things usually went quite well, except for the year my youngest brother, at about 4 years old, decided to tell Santa he had bad breath. My poor mother!
The day after Christmas, we’d returne to G. Fox. It had become a tradition to take advantage of the half price sale on Christmas wrapping paper and cards. The whole family spent a couple of hours among the crowds, selecting cards, paper and bows at 50% off. All of the shopping loot would be packed into a large box to be delivered to our home. When the box arrived, my mother and father packed it away for next Christmas.
So many of my memories of the time are tied in to that wonderful store. Going with my father to help him pick out diamond studs to surprise my mother on their 25th wedding anniversary. Buying my first real lipstick (not the cheaper version from the drugstore or 5 and dime). My older brother being old enough to drive me to purchase leather gloves for my mother, with money I had saved up. But the family sold the store in 1965, and there were so many changes made that the store lost touch with its core values. The store closed for good in 1993.
The building at 960 Main St. in Hartford now houses both retail and professional tenants. I understand the Main St. lobby has been restored to its former Art Deco glory. But the store is gone, and I miss it and all the times we enjoyed there. I especially miss the days when a salesperson actually thanked you for spending money in their establishment.