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Deep Inside Rochester’s Big Old Sibley Building

November 18th, 2013

The Sibley Building, Rochester NY. [PHOTO:]
This former department store (Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Company) is truly massive. Rochester’s Sibley Building external link weighs in at over 1.1 million square feet (23 acres of floorspace) – easily the largest building in Monroe County.

WinnCompanies external link out of Boston now owns the property and plans to spend up to $200 Million over the next five years to bring it back to life as mixed-use space. Holy smokes, do these guys have their work cut out for them. You may have noticed new windows and awnings along Main Street? Some 2,000 windows have yet to be replaced.

Last week the UofR Urban Explorers Club went on a tour through the maze of hallways and spaces, from the dark sub-basement all the way up to the two massive water tanks on the tower rooftop…

Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co. around holiday time, 1938. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
Before we begin, here’s a look at department store around holiday time, 1938. At one time you could get anything here. Clothing, shoes, hats, belts, handbags, cosmetics, fine jewelry, sportswear, household items, decorations, coins and stamps, electronics, cameras, portraits, groceries, baked goods, etc. There was a pharmacy, ice cream shoppe, sidewalk cafe, a gourmet restaurant; even a deli and butcher shop. See the old store directory here external link.

Sibley building atrium and clock. [PHOTO:]
It’s a much different picture today. Fairly empty with a few scattered reminders of the glory days.

Sibley building clock. [PHOTO:]
Like this clock. A plaque beneath it reads:

“Meet me under the clock” were the instructions that generations of shoppers used for their rendezvous at Sibley’s downtown department store. The four-sided timepiece originally hung from the first floor ceiling in front of the current escalators. The original clock has been restored, inverted and mounted on the steel pole for future generations to admire as a piece of past Sibley department store history.

“Inverted” means that the clock was mounted on this pole upside-down – the clock faces had to be removed, flipped right-side-up, and reinstalled.

Above the clock, the 5-story glass-enclosed atrium installed in 1990 is not original to the building. This atrium was cut open to let sunlight light in. Helicopters were used to lift the glass panels into place.

Sibley building atrium. [PHOTO:]
WinnCompanies has also started to repaint some areas of the building. These are the very early signs of a rebirth.

Sibley building escalators. [PHOTO:]
According to a news article on September 23, 1936 these were the very first escalators in western New York. On Sept. 30, 1936, hundreds of shoppers looked on as Mayor Charles Stanton pulled a cord which started the 1,500-foot, five-story conveyance system. All ten escalators cost $250,000 to install and could carry 8,000 people an hour.

WinnCompanies has just completed the restoration of ONE of the nickel-brass escalators at a cost of $200,000. All ten would cost just over $2 Million to renovate.

These escalators have been running nearly non-stop since 1936. Rather than replace the inner workings with all new mechanics which might last 20 years, they say it made way more sense to restore and reuse what is already there. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t run for another 80 years.

Sibley building elevators. [PHOTO:]
There are a total of 22 elevators in the building. The ones on the ground level in the main lobby are surrounding by green Italian marble. Sibley’s renovated the main floor and had a Grand Reopening on November 2, 1942. They hired an artist to create these relief sculptures to be displayed above each elevator. These first two represent the progress of Main Street over the previous 75 years.

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO:]

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO:]

The next two celebrate local achievements in engineering and agriculture – harnessing the power and energy of the land and Genesee River…

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO:]

…to fuel industrial growth, productivity and spur enhancements in education, culture, energy, architecture, etc.

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO:]
Also not sure who the artist was.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO:]
Today there are still a few tenants hanging on, including MCC (for now) and a Rainbow clothing store.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO:]

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO:]
We take a peek inside a set of double doors off the atrium. This is the southwest (Main and Clinton) corner of the building. It’s being used temporarily as an arts studio for city kids.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO:]
This space will eventually be occupied by a restaurant and/or cafe.

Hallway to Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO:]
Now we head to the back of the building down several zig-zaggy hallways to the loading docks.

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO:]
Shipments of goods from all over the world would be received at these giant loading bay doors.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO:]
Boxes of goods and other items would be sent down these shafts to the basement levels to be distributed and displayed throughout the building.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO:]
This is where the baked goods were once made, down this ramp. But we didn’t get a chance to go down there.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO:]
Instead we head up these stairs, where the shipping & receiving manager hung out. In its heyday, Sibley’s delivery room shipped nearly 10,000 packages daily.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO:]
It’s quite dark in here. But we see a few chairs, shelves, some old Sibley’s boxes, and empty packs of cigarettes. CORRECTION: Those are Sibley’s bags, not boxes. I didn’t touch them so I wasn’t sure. But they looked super-thick like boxes!

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO:]

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO:]

Sibley building freight elevator. [PHOTO:]
Now we’re going to jump onto a freight elevator and rumble on up to the sixth floor.

Sibley building freight elevator. [PHOTO:]
These elevators are old-school!

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
We step off the elevator on level six, into a huge empty space which used to be the Tea Room/Tower Restaurant kitchen.

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
The floors are covered wall to wall with white tile (or what was once white).

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
This place could use some elbow grease.

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
These two service doors were for wait staff.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
The doors lead into this fancy restaurant known as The Tower Restaurant (I’ve also heard it referred to as the “Pompeian Room”). It served nearly 130,000 meals a year.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
It was renovated sometime during the late 70’s or early 80’s. A dance floor and fairly dated gold paneling was installed.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
This grand buffet was designed and built specifically for this room. It’s shown in the original 1904 architectural floorplans.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
A little side room used to store extra furniture was once a private dining room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
Another side room off the main dining room, again for private functions.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
The ceiling covering has lost its desire to hang on. So far the chandelier is still hanging tough.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
This door takes us outside onto the roof.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
WinnCompanies plans to make this into a green roof deck for future tenants.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
They also plan to restore the clock tower. And there’s the glass atrium to the left.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
Nice views from here, but they’re even better from the top of the 12-story tower. We’ll see those later on. Let’s go back inside.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
It’s so dark in here sometimes I forget to look down and notice the nice floors. This is outside the ladies’ powder room…

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
The ladies’ powder room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
And this door leads to the ladies’ bathroom. Shall we?

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
Nice color scheme. The sign on the back wall reads:

“Every effort is made to keep this lavoratory as clean as possible for you. We will appreciate your cooperation in helping us maintain its cleanliness.
Thank You”

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
And this is the men’s lounge. I don’t have any photos of the men’s bathroom. It was a rather small space for my lens and not as interesting as the ladies’ room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
Outside the men’s room and just past the guest elevator was this weird space. It has been reported that this was the kids’ Barber Shop? Anyway, there was a neat series of folksy murals on the wall, painted in the 1950’s by Lindus Vilimas from Sibley’s own Display Department…

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
“Pleasant Valley of the Genesee”

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
“On the Great Trail”

Mural in the Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
“Upper Falls” …and there is a fourth one buried just behind the temporary wall on the right. I couldn’t squeeze my camera in there.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO:]
Alrighty. Let’s go back downstairs. Our host wants to show us the basements. But not on this elevator.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
We take the freight elevator to the upper basement. There is sub-basement beneath here we’ll see later.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
It’s a maze of dark hallways.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
And storage cages.

Boilers in the Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
The building is heated with steam and toasty warm down here. These are two enormous boilers. The pipes down are clanging away like mad. Take a listen…


Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
There’s a ton of great junk down here. I could have spent days digging through it all but the group is moving fast. I start to fall behind.

Sibley's department store basement. Pneumatic tube system. [PHOTO:]
I don’t know what this room is. The Super Mario Bros. room maybe. OR, this could be the room that powered the pneumatic tube system for the building. Thirty-five miles of pneumatic tubes sent transactions from the sales counters to the “tube room” where change was counted out or the purchase was put on a charge account. Nearly 1,000 such transactions took place each day. Each one taking less than 40 seconds roundtrip. Who needs a computer anyway!

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
Some kind of dark mystery room I don’t want to venture into.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
Piles of old wooden doors.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO:]
This reminds me of my first apartment. I don’t get too comfy though. This place is starting to freak me out.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO:]
We make our way past several elevator bays that open up into a wide open space.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO:]
This area used to be where all the “bargain basement” deals were. Sort of the Sibley’s version of Filene’s Basement, though Sibley’s version probably came first.

Sibley's department store, 1940. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
I’m not certain, but I imagine this old photo from 1940 might be somewhere down here in the Bargain Basement.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO:]
Stairs. But we’re not going up just yet.

This looks like it could have been a cafeteria – for employees maybe? Could also have been the phone-order department. [PHOTO:]
After several twists and turns I have no idea where we are now. This looks like it could have been a cafeteria – for employees maybe? Could also have been the phone-order department. Operators here would handle nearly 10,000 calls each week. Phone orders at Sibley’s made up 5 percent of total sales.

To the SUB-basement! [PHOTO:]
Ok, now let’s go even deeper. To the SUB-basement!

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO:]
Uh oh. It’s intensely dark and claustrophobic when finally I realize I made a wrong turn and have to head back. I’m completely removed from the group at this point. The clanging pipes are drilling into my cranium.

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO:]
Back on track now. This area was sort of strange, spatially. It was probably a 50,000 square foot space. Huge. But it felt just the opposite because of all the support columns everywhere. Like being deep inside a thick forest.

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO:]
Every wall and column has writing on it.

I notice a classic rock theme to much of the graffiti down here. [PHOTO:]
I notice a classic rock theme to much of the graffiti down here.

Supermang. [PHOTO:]

This area was for wrapping and packing. [PHOTO:]
Remember the chutes from the loading docks upstairs? I think we may have found the bottom of one. This area was for wrapping and packing. How do I know? Because the threatening sign says so…

I wonder what else went on down here besides wrapping & packing? [PHOTO:]
I wonder what else went on down here besides wrapping & packing? Some good times, I’m sure.

Ok, at this point I can’t hear any of the voices from my group. I’ve fallen way behind and need to kick it into high gear to catch up before I get trapped down here.

Sibley Tower lobby. [PHOTO:]
Eventually we come back up and come to the main lobby of the tower. The tower was built in two phases with floors 7 through 12 added in 1924. By 1939, Sibley’s would be the largest department store between New York City and Chicago.

Notice the fancy mailbox. This is connected to a Cutler mail chute, invented and produced in Rochester, NY. This one was in working order through at least 2000. It may still work but it’s currently not in use. Maybe because there are only two tenants in the tower now?

The 11th floor of Sibley Tower. [PHOTO:]
The tour now takes us up to the 11th floor. The elevator lets out into one long hallway with tons of these glowing doors. I have this incredible urge to open up each one to see what’s behind them.

We take a walk to the temporary WinnCompanies office. [PHOTO:]
We take a walk to the temporary WinnCompanies office.

Great views of midtown from here. [PHOTO:]
Great views of midtown from here. Lots of neat renderings and floor plans showing the new renovated Sibley building. From left to right: the office & retail lobby elevators, building exterior showing the green rooftop deck, and the residential (tower) lobby.

These are the original original plans (from 1910). They are printed on silk. [PHOTO:]
These are the original original plans (from 1904). Hand drawn on silk and with famous local architect J. Foster Warner’s signature on each one, each page looks like a work of art and is worth as much as $1,000 per page to collectors.

From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario on a clear day. [PHOTO:]
From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario…

From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario on a clear day. [PHOTO:]
…I mean, if it were a clear day.

Here's the view looking down Main Street and East Ave. [PHOTO:]
Here’s the view looking down Main Street East (on the left) and East Ave. (on the right). Holiday lights are being hung on the Liberty Pole today.

I love these doors. Each one has a teeny mail slot. [PHOTO:]
We’re taking another walk down the hall to see some more stuff. I love these doors. It feels like we are on the set of “Mad Men”. Each door has a teeny mail slot. At some point our mail must have gotten larger because some of the doors have been modified with a larger one. These will all become high-end apartments. Because of the historic landmark status of the building, WinnCompanies cannot alter the doors or hallways in any way. The doors will have to open into a vestibule with another, more secure door inside.

My very first full time job was working for an internet service provider called EZnet, here in the late 1990's. [PHOTO:]
HISTORICAL NOTE: My very first full time job was working for an internet service provider called EZnet (late 1990’s before the dot com bubble). Behind this glass door was where I designed my first professional web site – for the company that made Jolt Cola.

Dentistry by Dr. Robert I. Morris. Closed Thursday Afternoons. [PHOTO:]
Alright, here’s a slightly more interesting door. Dentistry by Dr. Robert I. Morris. Closed Thursday Afternoons. This guy had some serious work ethic.

Dr. Morris hasn't been here in years. This place is frozen in time. [PHOTO:]
Looks like Dr. Morris hasn’t been here in years. This place is frozen in time. There’s a series of three or four really cramped patient rooms.

Let's see those pearly whites. [PHOTO:]
Let’s see those pearly whites. “CHEESE!”

Gas masks. [PHOTO:]
Gas masks. But the chair is missing from this room.

A Capmaster and a Toothmaster. All kinds of paper files are still in here too.  [PHOTO:]
I wonder what these were used for? A Capmaster and a Toothmaster. Somewhere around here are the Keymaster and Gatekeeper.

Kodak dental film dispenser. [PHOTO:]
Kodak was everywhere!

Now we jump on yet another elevator to head up to the 12th floor.

Another cool lobby. [PHOTO:]
For some reason the elevator took us down to the 1st floor before taking us up. But we got to see another cool lobby.

12th floor. [PHOTO:]
Alright, here we are on 12.

12th floor. [PHOTO:]
At one time Sibley’s had fur storage vaults up here on 12. A D&C article in 1939 noted these vaults contained “thousands of valuable coats on miles of racks.” In addition to the vaults were “high pressure blowing machines for cleaning the furs before storage.” We didn’t see any of that. Just lots of open space with nice views.

Nice view of the clock tower and Main Street West. [PHOTO:]
Nice view of the clock tower and Main Street West. While we’re up here let’s venture up to the roof…

While we're up here let's venture up to the roof... [PHOTO:]

While we're up here let's venture up to the roof... [PHOTO:]

Here's a view of the old central post office. [PHOTO:]
Here’s a view of the old central post office.

This giant metal structure once held a Sibley's department store sign. [PHOTO:]
This giant metal structure once held a Sibley’s department store sign.

That’s the Temple Building and the Liberty Pole peeking up above the roofline.

That's the Midtown webcam. [PHOTO:]
A webcam was installed here by the City to capture photos of the Midtown construction across the street.

WinnCompanies plans to install a green rooftop deck up here as well. This one would be for the apartment residents. There might even be a disposal chute for doggy waste. Neat-o.

In the center of the tower is a big open space so that interior offices can have a little daylight. [PHOTO:]
The tower is actually shaped like an irregular triangle. In the center is a big open space so that interior offices can have a little daylight. WinnCompanies also plans to install a rooftop patio down in there.

Have you ever wondered what's inside there? Let's check it out... [PHOTO:]
You may have noticed this little brick building way up on top of the big Sibley’s building tower. Well, it’s not so little from up here. Have you ever wondered what’s inside there? Let’s check it out…

On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals. [PHOTO:]
On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals.

On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals. [PHOTO:]

Going up one more level. This would technically be the 14th floor. [PHOTO:]
Going up one more level. This would technically be the 14th floor.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO:]
Up here we find not one, but two huge water tanks. Originally created to use gravity and provide enough pressure for both the fire sprinkler and domestic water systems in the building. Today these 30,000 gallon tanks lie mostly empty and dormant, the ultimate pigeon roost.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO:]
These photos don’t even come close to conveying their true size.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO:]
They kind of look like giant atomic bombs.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO:]

Mural billboard on the back of the Sibley's tower. [PHOTO:]
And there she is. Sibley’s, the former pride of Rochester retail. From top to bottom. Rochester is excited to see the updates WinnCompanies will bring to the old girl. Follow their progress on Facebook external link or their website external link

Related Video:

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Drunken Hijinks and Homicide in Rochester’s Sibley Building

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 18th, 2013 at 7:50 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Development, Urban Exploration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

122 Responses to “Deep Inside Rochester’s Big Old Sibley Building”

  1. Ken Backus says:

    Article brought back great memories, I worked in wrapping and packing in the the mid 50s.My father Ed, delivered for Sibleys with a horse and wagon, and spent almost 50 years with Sibleys.

  2. Joan says:

    Dr. Morris was my dentist from childhood until I moved from Rochester in my twenties. He was a wonderful dentist. He didn’t believe in pulling teeth. Oh, he did offer gas for those afraid of needles.

    Best dentist I ever had.

  3. Gregg Morris says:

    Thanks so much, Joan. He was a pretty good father, too. He practiced until he was 86, and passed away at 92. He cared about his patients.

  4. jim alexander says:

    After seeing the dental office of Dr. Morris, it makes me wonder if that was the same office that my grandfather Charles Alexander worked in as a dental technician before retiring in the late 60’s.

  5. Phyllis says:

    You missed one of the best parts of the Sibley Bldg but you would not have been allowed since it is located on the Damon City Campus and is located next to my office. The conference room which is intact and stunning.

  6. Alan says:

    It hurts my heart to see how grand things were and how crappy they are now. Look at how the tour people are dressed!! There’s just no excuse for that.

  7. Nolee says:

    These memories are just wonderful. Thank you to whoever set up this website and for those who continue to comment on it. All of this is very healing to those of us who have watched the downfall of downtown. They can talk about rejuvenation all they want, it can never be like then, but then, nothing ever stays the same. I also agree about “dresss code” for those touring. Remember back when you wouldn’t think of going shopping without getting yourself together first?

  8. Carol says:

    Thanks for the memories. My dads office was on the corner over the clock on the 12th floor. No A/C then..just the sounds of the Hari Krishna outside Midtown ! Anyone remember the fashion shows during lunch at the Tower Restaurant? Or the great Christmas train during the holidays?

  9. Richard Long says:

    Sibleys, the Queen of the hill among Rochester’s department stores. An adventure in shopping in a store people born after 1950 never dreamed of, as well as the place that provided the first job for many Rochester kids. Before air conditioning, really, the secret of Sibleys comfortable environment was the same system of Sturdovant blowers and windows opened at night to cool thousands of tons of concrete and contents. Those who remember Sibleys remember none of the windows could be seen from sales floors, because they were all hidden by stock rooms.

    Clever marketing that made you walk through merchandise to get to what you came to buy, and knew you could get at Sibleys, even if it was slightly higher in price.

    Sibleys was a store a person could live in and never leave, if they knew where to hide away and sleep for the night, and perhaps some did.

    There were only 4 ways in and out of the main floor that held more makeup than Rochester needed, shoes, cameras, 25 phone booths, a couple hundred package lockers, a lunch room, a complete grocery store (where else in Rochester could you buy canned roasted chocolate coated ants and grasshoppers, and the finest sugar cookie on earth just 100 feet from the frozen chocolate malted milk for 12¢ that addicted people from their first spoon. Gift wrapping where the lady would show inept men how to wrap as well as wrap your gift was right next to the Photographer who took pictures of half the kids in the City along with girls who got engaged wasn’t 50 feet from the frozen malts. Lets not forget scissors, over 100 varieties stockings for men and ladies, belts and wallets from Hickock, and a hundred other things all on the first floor along with the entrance at Main & Clinton heated to just below the temperature of Hell’s entrance so people waiting for buses could stay warm.
    The grocery store was pure joy, bakery and butcher counters set up in squares in the middle, with the butcher and bakers laboring in the basement to keep the counters full.

    The main bank of elevators all run by elevator operators who announced the content of floors as the car went up, until the horrible conversion to push button elevators in the late 50s, with dispensers for free shopping bags on the main floor, until the shopping bags cost 2¢ and then 5¢ on the honor system, in a store where every clerk asked as your merchandise was checked out, “Are you taking this with you or shall I send it?”. Sibleys had its own fleet of delivery trucks that grew to a size the fleet needed its own off site garage & sorting building.

    Sporting goods was on the main floor too, at the North end abutting the ramp garage, backing up to the loading docks that faced the never completed Rochester Savings Bank. You could buy golf balls, baseballs, basketballs or footballs, and all you needed to play with them, guns, both rifle or shotgun, fishing poles, canoes, or a fishing boat, all displayed inside Sporting goods, from men who knew the product and were there to aquatint the customer with the product.

    The famed polished copper clock on the main floor with its smaller companions at the escalator on every floor, so customers knew how long they had to shop before the store closed, and the chimes that paged and alerted employees were well known and often overlooked except at 11am on the 11th of November every year, Armistice Day, when the entire store and most of the City stopped for 3 minutes of silence as the chimes rang 11 times.

    But the main floor wasn’t the best part of Sibleys, the best floor, for kids of every age was 6, where the TOY department shared the floor with the Tea Room and its 100 foot long buffet and luxurious bathrooms and lounges (pay toilets of course) where ladies and gentlemen smoked if they chose because smoking just wasn’t done in the Tea Room. After Thanksgiving Christmas Dreamland opened in what was the stock room for TOYS, and thousands of Rochester residents walked through the land of dreams ending with a visit with Santa.

    One floor down was appliances, everything from curling irons to toasters and refrigerators all sold by sales associates who knew their product, on a floor shared with a complete hardware store.

    Sibleys was open only 6 days a week, and only 2 of them till 9, except from Thanksgiving to Christmas. That didn’t mean the store was empty of employees though, Engineers in the basement attended the boilers 24 hours a day and cleaners swept and mopped at night while stock moved to the sales floor and contractors did repairs and painting and changed out store fixtures.

    Sibleys was a world unto itself, a complete store, and a store people proudly carried the metal chargeplate in the red leather cover from as a badge of being a Sibleys charge customer. The blue leather plate was for Rochester’s lesser stores who shared a Credit Department.

    The queen of the hill began to die a slow death in the 50s as cars replaced buses bringing customers downtown. McCurdys built a 2 story store at Northgate, but Sibleys waited to see before they built Southtown and then Irondequoit neither of which held what the queen held, but they could get it delivered to your door the next day, except for the malts and sugar cookies. Even when Sibleys offered free parking in the ramp now attached to all 6 floors with enclosed walkways after 6 it was too late. Rochester had left town, moved to the burbs, and nobody came downtown any more. The elderly man in his Sibley’s green uniform and suitcoat still polished the bronze signs with Brasso on the building at 7 every morning, but the window on Main Street with the slot where children dropped their letters to Santa no longer got installed Thanksgiving day.

    The liquidators came in the 70s and sold off the fixtures and appliances, and all that remained was boxcars of woodwork and plaster representing hundreds of thousands of hours of work by Rochester’s finest craftsmen and floors of empty.

  10. Rosie says:

    A fabulous read, however, one correction. I worked in that building until 1989. That was when it closed, not in the 70s.

  11. Jerry Norton says:

    Christmas always included Sibley’s. What great memories!

  12. Richard Long says:

    Rosie, you may have worked there till 89, but Sibleys DIED in the 70s. I still shudder thinking of making a trip there in 72 to show a young fellow what Toyland was only to find Toyland no longer existed and was now a dumpy version of Irondequoit. No longer were there elves in green costumes prancing around Santa, there wasn’t even Santa. My cousin, now 70 was first employed as a Sibley elf in 1962, riding the bus home in her costume and enjoying the attention she got because of it as she munched her employee discounted sugar cookie.

    Sibleys was THE place to go before Christmas, with perhaps a side trip to Neisners across the street or Woolworth’s for one of their giant creampuffs on the way home when the lady selling them gave you two for the price of one so they didn’t go in the garbage.

    Downtown began to die when Gilbert McCurdy built at Northgate and Sibleys built at Southtown where they could display 30 foot boats with stairs so potential buyers could get on the boat and dream.

    Suburban stores in plazas never matched the downtown stores, not even Edwards with the clankey elevators and rental library where you could rent a book the week it was published or Sibleys where you could get custom made Dr Sholls arch supports measured, made and fitted in just a week. No suburban store ever had a Pen Doctor counter where you could get a fountain pen rebladdered either.

    Some days a long lasting memory is more a sadness than a joy. I still recall Edwards down the hill where the basement became their Christmasland every year complete with the operating train kids could ride into the area parent’s couldn’t see and get off the train at Santa’s chair.

    Automobiles and parking killed downtown, along with City taxes and fees, and the City closed its eyes and ears to the exit. The City also Urban Renewed many fine small stores to extinction. It’s been down Main Street Hill since Front Street and N Water Street fell under the ball of Atlas Wrecking, and today Atlas Wrecking is gone too. The towers on South Clinton that replaced Lowes and the small stores on the West side of the street now sit empty for the most part searching for tenants to fill empty floors. The magnificent Convention Center that had to be built at taxpayer expense and pay no taxes displaced how many more taxpaying properties? How much is still owed on the wide sidewalks on Main Street nobody walks on after 6 on Monday to Friday?

    Downtown’s suicide was assisted by City Hall before City Hall moved to the old Federal Building so more politicians could create jobs for their relatives.

  13. Joe V says:

    Great historical comments Richard. I worked on the 4th floor part-time while in High School in the 50’s. In those days, Toyland was on the 4th floor and there were 5 entrances on the Main floor. Three on Main St., One on Clinton, & One on North St. Although many departments such as bakery and grocery were no longer there, the store itself closed in 1990. Check out the video of closing day.

  14. Richard Long says:

    Dangit, doubledangit.
    I been thinking about the sugar cookies and frozen malteds for 3 days now. Even went on google looking for more information, and it seems like at least 100 people are looking for recipes from Sibley’s bakery, and only 1 person has a recipe for what tastes like Sibley’s apple pie. Best information I came up with is the man who runs Jackson’s Bakery on Stone Rd in Greece was a baker at Sibleys. Now I’m wondering if I go over to Jacksons and shake my cane at him if he’ll give the information up.

    It’s just terrible when I get to ruminating on the good days of Rochester. Now I have Atlantic Supply a few blocks East of Sibleys on my mind too, barrels of candied fruit and nuts and every ingredient you could possibly want to make fine cookies for Christmas. Downtown was where it was at back before the politicians Urban Renewed everything. A working man could get both breakfast and a good lunch at the YWCA or Baptist Temple cafeteria for reasonable money back then. Neisner’s lunch counter that had about 100 stools along the West wall would get you by too if you weren’t fussy.

    That darn Liberty Pole contraption rook out about 9 taxpaying stores and probably 20 offices above them, and the City never got the eternal flames to burn during winter in the fountains.

  15. Robert Traina says:

    I remember the orange crullers from the bakery, small oblong doughuts with orange frosting. Haven’t found anything similar since.

  16. Andy says:

    I remember how downtown was as a kid and it’s as to see what has become of the old sibley building.

  17. Dimitri Yioulos says:

    I recall downtown with such fond memories. As a kid, I’d ride the 6 Webster to Laurelton bus there often to go to the Central YMCA. I always wanted to linger afterward to take in the sights and sounds of downtown. Sibley’s, McCurdy’s, Edwards (I worked in the toy department there one Christmas season in the early 1960s), and Foreman’s department stores are all etched in my mind. But, of course, Sibley’s was the Grande Dame. My mother worked in the beauty salon for a few years. She would take me shopping there on occasion, and once in a very great while, we’d go to the Tower Restaurant. What a treat!

  18. Nolee C Feiock says:

    We can never get those things back but the memories sure are sweet. I worked at Woolworth’s for $1 an hour in 1960 and thought I owned the world. Lived on Garson and it was almost a straight line from the corner of Wisconsin and Main to the front door at Sibleys. I never ate in the tower. I thought the basement restaurant was special enough. Years later in the 80s my daughter worked in a small office up in the tower for a lawyer and after retirement, my husband worked up in the tower area for a temp agency. Overlooking the city was glorious for him.

    We would walk from the East High Annex after school and spend an hour downtown. I rode up Scio last week because of construction at University and Main and boy, did that evoke memories!!! Life seemed so sweet then!!

  19. Susan Gardner says:

    Especially timely since Margaret Thirtle, long-time Sibley employee, just passed last week at the age of 101. A special lady.

  20. Richard Long says:

    The zenith of Main Street marketing had to have been the 50s with Sibleys and McCurdys occupying opposite sides of Main Street with Woolworth and Neisners across Clinton Ave along with B Foreman, McFarlins and Edwards down the hill and the ever beloved Planters Peanut store filling the corner with the aroma of roasting nuts to make you hungry.

    Main Street began to die by 1960, primarily because the War was finally over, and everybody had a car and no longer relied on Rochester Transit’s cream and maroon buses to get downtown.

    Sibleys was the Queen, forever returning profit to the building with new paint and plaster along with woodwork after the store closed and on weekends.

    Edwards, the low guy on the hill marketed to a different customer base, people with less money to spend who willingly rode rattling elevators with open front cars with only a gate, and operators who announced every floor both going up and coming back down. Those operators had the eyes of an eagle and the ability to stop the car in a heartbeat if a kid stuck a hand through the gate and the skill to encourage passengers to move the little darling to the rear of the car.

    All the pneumatic tubes in Edwards went to the basement where cashiers behind a concrete wall rechecked the sale slip and sent the carrier back with the slip and change. You could stand outside the money room and get a sense of how good business was by the sound of carriers arriving and departing via tube. Sibleys and Edwards both preferred charge customers who the clerk only needed to print off the sales slip and the store didn’t have to deal with cash.

    In the 50s, Edwards also had a kid train in the basement that left the area where Santa sat listening to little darlings desires with a few elves making a few bucks after school and on Saturday. The train rolled on tracks bolted to the floor through a door into the darkened place for children. Elves who loaded kids on the train always asked if the kid was a screamer, and on occasion moms got jammed into the train with their kid. Other times the train stopped in dreamland and an elf walked a screaming kid back out to his or her parents.

    Edwards also had a small camera counter, inside the Main St entrance, and 3 days a week the Pen Doctor manned his counter to offer a free diagnosis of what was needed to get your pen back working. Fortunately, the War was over and new rubber bladders were available. He’d gladly return your Shaffer or Waterman to near new condition and you could pick it up, or have it delivered if you had an Edwards Charge Plate.

    If you were a reader Edwards was the store in Rochester that had new books as soon as they were available from the printer. Their book department was on an upper floor at the back of the store, and offered a rental library you could get a book from for a few cents a day. Rundell might have the book in a few months, but Edwards had it first.

    The owners of Rochester’s Department Stores were all friends, and easily separated business from friendship even at the Chamber of Commerce on St Pauls Street.

    They all did well from the savings of war workers in the 50s when there was again merchandise to sell.

    Gilbert McCurdy would be the first to announce downtown was dead and he was building a store at Northgate. They all needed to change how business was done. By the time the City got parking garages up and even offered free parking on nights the stores were open, downtown was done. Even Midtown could only postpone the death. The busiest sideewalk might cross Main from Sibleys to McCurdys but McCurdy didn’t like it, so he moved the entrance back from Main Street.

  21. Janet R. says:

    OMG! I was freaking out a bit when the office hallways showed up and then you showed my childhood dentist’s office! I was still seeing Dr Morris in the 1980s, but switched to a more local provider eventually. Sibley’s was such a great place to shop. It was the best part of going to the dentist for sure : )

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