An interview with Gimbel’s chairman, Ellis A. Gimbel, in the Feb. 9, 1950, issue of WWD contained plenty of predictions for the future of retail that were right on the money. Intercontinental delivery service in a matter of days? Hello, Net-a-porter. Remote-controlled shopping? HSN and QVC have had that particular waterfront covered for years now. But the retail executive had one outlandish prophecy: a store on the moon. After all, according to the article, “Expansion…is uppermost in the Gimbel mind at all times.”
With 60 years’ hindsight, this bit of lunar lunacy might seem preposterous, but at the start of the Fifties (pre-Laika and pre-Sputnik), optimism about Space Age technologies was such that, as Gimbel said, “you can write your own predictions.” Department stores were expanding to the suburbs, so why not the rest of the solar system? When asked for specifics, the 84-year-old Gimbel was more vague, stating only that his moon branch would sell “atomic-manufactured merchandise,” and that, if all went well, Mars was also a possibility.
The Philadelphia-based chain, however, remained earthbound and closed in 1987, its founder’s dreams of interplanetary commerce unrealized. So was another vision of his. The article concluded: “There is every likelihood that the future will solve the central city parking problem, which has caused so many stores to go suburban, the Gimbel’s executive declared.”