Ridley's Department Store

Art & Culture | History

Pink Paint and a Wild Cold-Case Surround this LES Landmark

Ridley's Pink Department Store NYC Lower East Side

About Ridley's Department Store

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • At the corner of Orchard and Grand Streets, you will see something truly grand: a gracious rounded corner of cast iron, sporting curved windows and painted pastel pink.
  • That grandeur harkens back to the mid-19th century when Grand Street lived up to its name as a luxurious thoroughfare and shopping destination.
  • In 1848 Edward Ridley arrived from England and set up a dry-goods shop on Grand St.
  • By the early 1880s, the store had expanded to several more buildings and occupied nearly the whole block of Grand between Orchard and Allen Streets.
  • Ridley’s was touted as the largest department store in Manhattan.
  • By 1889 it employed a whopping 2,500 people, maintained a fleet of more than 50 delivery wagons, published an in-house fashion magazine, and sold everything from canaries to waffle irons.
    • Business was booming so big that Ridley’s commissioned a whole new storefront in 1886 that spread from 309-321 Grand Street (the pink corner you see dates from 1886).
    • Ridley’s advertised that the new store contained “115 departments.”
  • Sadly, the boom times came to an end as the century turned, and fashion moved uptown.
  • Ridley’s closed in 1901, but its story does not end there!
  • Edward Ridley Jr. was eccentric, to say the least…
    • When the store closed, Ridley Jr. went into real estate, operating out of the store’s old sub-basement. He also took to wearing rain boots constantly, carrying an umbrella at all times, and letting his beard grow to his waist.
    • One morning in 1931, he came to work in the sub-basement to find his secretary, Herman Moench, dead in the cellar.
      • At first, the death seemed to be from natural causes, but the coroner found two bullet holes in Moench’s chest! However, no one saw nor heard anything, and the case went cold.
  • And it gets weirder!! Two years later, the now-88-year-old Ridley Jr. and his new secretary, Lee Weinstein, were found dead in the same cellar in which Moench was found.
    • Weinstein was shot, and Ridley was beaten to death with a stool. But get this: the ballistics report revealed that Moench and Weinstein had been shot with the same gun!
  • Here’s what was discovered:
    • Weinstein had been bootlegging out of the subbasement/adjacent garage.
    • He was also named to receive $200,000 from a fake version of Ridley’s will.
    • Weinstein’s two co-conspirators for the will caper were none other than Ridley’s two accountants.
    • It turns out they had also skimmed $200,000 from the Ridley business coffers.
    • Although indicted for those crimes, no murderer was ever found, and the case remains cold to this day!

By: Christi Scofield & Lucie Levine
Photography by:
Christi Scofield & NYPL

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