Book: ‘Remembering Hudson’s: The Grand Dame of Detroit Retail’

A new book salutes the vastness and variety of downtown Detroit’s former Hudson’s department store.
Photographs courtesy of Detroit Historical Museum/Arcadia Publishing

Hudson’s was imploded in 1998, reducing the immense department store to rubble in a matter of minutes. But memories of the downtown emporium aren’t as quickly erased.

It’s as futile as trying to catch the wind, but pining for the past is a very human trait, one that seems to escalate the more uncertain the future appears. Remembering Hudson’s: The Grande Dame of Detroit Retailing, by Michael Hauser and Marianne Weldon (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), will no doubt stir up a raft of warm remembrances.

The book is chock-full of 200-plus photos, mostly of artistic window designs and elaborate in-store displays, all dated and paired with informative captions. There’s also a section on the building itself, with photos of how the exterior changed and grew through the years.

Hudson’s began as a modest haberdashery in 1881, but it would mushroom well beyond what founder Joseph L. Hudson could have dreamed. Eventually, Hudson’s became the world’s tallest department store, and only Macy’s in New York surpassed it in square footage.

Hauser and Weldon underscore that Hudson’s was indeed a department store, with an expansive book department on the mezzanine, a framing service and art gallery, a vast seventh-floor millinery, even a handkerchief department. And the 12th-floor toy department gave Santa’s workshop a run for its money. If you couldn’t find an item at Hudson’s, it probably didn’t exist.

Remembering Hudson’s does a fine job of saluting the downtown treasure, but what’s confounding is a final chapter devoted to Hudson’s Northland, which opened in 1954. It seems a digression. And why exclude Hudson’s Eastland, which followed in 1957? It would have been more cohesive to focus only on the downtown store, particularly because the book’s subtitle is “The Grande Dame of Detroit Retailing.”

Regardless, this slender volume will keep anyone who’s even moderately interested in Detroit’s retailing history glued to its pages.