Reliving the days of G. Fox & Co.

By Rachel Hill - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Thu., Apr. 28, 2011
Memorabilia from G. Fox was on display at the Windsor Historical Society. Photos by Rachel Hill.
Memorabilia from G. Fox was on display at the Windsor Historical Society. Photos by Rachel Hill.

If you remember the days when G. Fox reigned supreme, you remember that shopping there was an experience, and that the store was instrumental in defining an era.

G. Fox & Co. saw its heyday in the 1950s, and shopping in downtown Hartford still seems to resonate for many who remember when G. Fox was the height of style and class.

The Windsor Historical Society recently hosted a lecture by the Connecticut Historical Society entitled “From Hula Hoops to High Fashion: G. Fox & Co. in the 1950s.” In an April 19 presentation that explored G. Fox floor by floor, Elizabeth Abbe, director of public outreach, took the audience back to a time when hats and gloves were essentials for the girl looking for glamour and silk smoking jackets were all the rage for men of leisure.

The 1950s were a time when color television was introduced, Disneyland was built and Elvis Presley appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The 1950s family was stylish and active, and “Fox’s” department store had something for everyone.

Originally established in 1847 on Main Street in Hartford, G. Fox & Co. started out selling silks and fabrics. In 1917, it was destroyed in a fire, but through the efforts of organizations in town, G. Fox was able to stay in business, taking up residence in other buildings throughout Hartford until it was rebuilt. By the 1950s, it was the largest privately-owned department store in America.

The woman behind the store, Beatrice Fox Auerbach, granddaughter of founder Gerson Fox, was the heart of G. Fox, taking over operation in 1938. “Mrs. A,” as she was often referred to, kept high standards and was not above walking the sales floor herself to make sure the store was running smoothly. Well-respected by her staff, she had a loyal workforce who enjoyed reasonable hours and pension plans in those days.

In the presentation, Abbe showed slides that represented the times, such as elaborate evening bags and cuff links, spectator shoes and girls’ “Polly Flanders” dresses in the style of Shirley Temple. There were pictures of fine furniture and hat boxes from the “vogue” floor, and all of it brought up fond memories for those who attended.

Guests reminisced about such things as the elevator operators, or having a meal in the luncheonette, or the fancier “Connecticut Room,” and everyone remembered the posh mezzanine, art deco style and G. Fox at the holidays.

Some recounted a time when they were employed by G. Fox, sitting in on meetings and “Family Circle” luncheons, another forward-thinking idea of Fox Auerbach, who wished to foster camaraderie across different departments in the store through these company meals.

There was a floor for every stage of life at G. Fox - a floor for the new bride, house wares to set up house, and clothing for babies and children. “Toyland” for kids could be found on the 11th floor. As it turns out, a G. Fox toy truck today is valued at $1,000.

Another little-known fact: G. Fox used to sell liquor, but it had to be placed in the back because, by law, it had to be housed so many feet from a church. Popular perfumes like Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar were priced on the higher end at $30-$40, and G. Fox even had a pharmacy. The fourth floor had a smoking lounge, and models cruised the Connecticut Room restaurant to showcase fashions. And, you never had to carry a single bag at G. Fox. Everything was brought to the street for you.

Abbe described Fox Auerbach as “a woman of exquisite taste and style.” In her own words, Fox Auerbach described her store as a place where she was “selling a service and filling needs.”

When you set out to visit G. Fox in the 1950s, you made a day of it. It was never viewed as an errand to run. Perhaps that’s why the memory of this store lingers to this day.


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