The former Furchgott’s department store in Downtown Jacksonville.

Situated at a key location in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville, a six story building remains abandoned, 35 years after the closing of a local institution. Once a household name throughout Northeast Florida, Furchgott’s was a Jacksonville-based department chain store that was established by immigrant Leo Furchgott in 1868. During the early 20th century, under the leadership of president Frederick Meyerheim, Furchgott’s went through a period of growth that called for a major expansion of their upscale downtown department store, which was known for its designer departments.

To accommodate this growth, architects Marsh and Saxelbye were hired to design a new 60,000 square foot flagship Art Deco department store on the southeast corner of Adams and Hogans Streets. The first in town to have elevators, its first floor was said to be as American as cheese and apple pie when it opened its doors on October 8, 1941. By the 1980s, Furchgott’s had become a financially troubled chain. After 43 years of anchoring what was once downtown’s most prominent retail intersection, Furchgott’s permanently closed their flagship store on March 31, 1984. At the time, the chain claimed it would eventually reopen a smaller, single level store in the space. Nevertheless, those plans failed to materialized, with the chain filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closing all its remaining stores for good on May 8, 1985.

What happened to Furchgott’s isn’t unique. Literally every decent sized American city has an example of flagship, homegrown downtown department store that ceased operations in recent decades. While Jacksonville’s Furchgott’s remains largely unoccupied and underutilized today, things don’t have to remain that way. 14 hours due north of Florida’s largest city, a similar space is alive and well in Erie, Pennsylvania. It also has a use that generally draws out the angst in NIMBYs associated with gentrifying urban neighborhoods across the country…..affordable housing.

The Boston Store Place in Downtown Erie, PA (Adrienne Burke)

In many cities, the thought of affordable and workforce housing developments results in open debate, worries and assumptions about increased crime and negative impacts on surrounding property values. However, in this Great Lakes city of 100,000 residents, The Boston Store Place is a mixed-use affordable housing development that includes a popular craft brewery at ground level, bringing life and activity to the street and the area surrounding it.

The story of The Boston Store dates back to 1885 when Elisha H. Mack purchased the bankrupt Erie Dry Goods Store in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1885. Believing that Boston was the perceived center of fashion and culture, Mack then renamed the store after that city. In 1931, a new $2 million building designed by Erie-architecture firm, Shutts and Morrison, was constructed. Additional expansions through 1953 resulted in the completion of the 182,931-square foot building that stand today. Like the eventual outcome of the Furchgott’s chain, The Boston Store fell on hard times during the late 20th century, shuttering its Downtown Erie flagship store in 1979. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the building remained abandoned until 1998 when it was retrofitted into a six-story development featuring 125 apartments and commercial space.

Inside a ground floor special event space at The Boston Store Place.