Monday, November 5, 2018

“Clothes of Charm” - The Gorton Coy

by Erin Doane, Curator
The Gorton Coy, northeast corner of Main and Water Streets, 1949
For 56 years, the Gorton Coy was Elmira’s leading specialty shop. Women of discerning taste shopped there for all of their fashion needs. On July 3, 1916, Warren A. Gorton of Batavia purchased E. N. Crandall’s store, a small shop at 127 West Water Street in Elmira. Within days of the purchase, Gorton announced he would be selling off all of Crandall’s stock in order to make way for the new Gorton Company fashions. Gorton’s partner and co-owner of the store, Morris A. Black, was president of the Lindner Company of Cleveland and the manufacturer of “Wooltex” clothing. Their store in Elmira became the area’s exclusive seller of the Wooltex line. In 1917, they moved the store to 107 East Water Street.

Elmira Star-Gazette, July 10, 1916
George H. Danzig became manager of the store in 1919 and worked to transform it into a fashion center for the city. He had a second floor added to the single-story building and brought in a shoe department and a millinery department, the Charm Hat Shop. He built the store’s reputation among fashionable, discriminating women in the 1920s by stocking exclusive brands.  He was also the one who decided that the company’s name would be abbreviated to the Gorton Co’y, as was common in England. A sign painter, not understanding the abbreviation, produced a sign for the store that simply read “Gorton Coy” and the name stuck. In 1923, Danzig purchased 51 percent of stock in the company and took effective control of the business. Six years later, when his health began to fail, he sold his share of the store to Morris Black.

Elmira Star-Gazette, September 19, 1928
In the late 1920s, plans started being made to move the Gorton Coy to a new, larger building. A desirable location at the corner of Main and Water Streets was selected and a lease was secured. Then, the work began on building the store’s new home. On June 13, 1930, as excavation at the site was just nearing completion, tragedy struck. A wooden walkway that had been constructed along the west side of the work area collapsed under more than twenty pedestrians. Eleven-year-old Maria Smolka died in the accident and Effie W. Corey died the next day from her injuries after spending 45 minutes pinned in the wreckage. Nineteen others were sent to the hospital. Twenty lawsuits were subsequently filed against the Lowman Construction Company, which was in charge of the building project.

Building site after the walkway’s collapse, June 1930
The project continued, however, and on March 12, 1931 at 9:30am the new Gorton Coy store opened for business. The building was one of the last projects designed by Pierce and Bickford and is one of the only known examples of Art Deco architecture associated with the firm. The building’s three floors were filled with fashion, from coats and dresses to sportswear and undergarments. There was a beauty salon conducted by M. Henri of Paris on the third floor and a modern tearoom with two private dining rooms. The general offices were also on the third floor and the building was plumbed with a pneumatic tube system for transporting paperwork.

Pneumatic tube carrier used at the Gorton Coy
In 1938, Richard G. Raitt moved to Elmira to work as manager of the Gorton Coy. In 1941, he purchased the company outright and became the sole owner. In the mid-1940s, a department with electrical appliances for the home was added, the beauty salon was renovated and enlarged, and five toddler, child, and teen departments were combined to form Gorton’s Youth Center. Two new stores were also opened in Penn Yan and Geneva.

Electric City shop at Gorton Coy, 1946
Younger Set Shop at Gorton Coy, 1950
In 1967, Lane Bryant Inc. purchased Gorton Coy. Two years later, $250,000 was spent on a modernization program to make improvements to the entire store. Two new departments catering to tall women and larger women were added and one of the two manual elevators was replaced by a self-service elevator.

Buttons from one of the Gorton Coy’s manual elevators
Gorton Coy hatboxes, c. 1940s-1960s
The flood of June 1972 did considerable damage to the basement and first floor of the Gorton Coy. As a result, the store closed and its forty employees were laid off. In September of that year, Lane Bryant announced that the store was closing for good. In October, Luckey-Platt & Co. purchased the company and continued operating the store with marginal success under the Gorton Coy name until 1975 when it finally closed its doors for the last time. In 1988, the words “Gorton Coy” were removed from the building and in April 1991, the building was renamed the Komer Center.

Elmira Star-Gazette, November 6, 1972


  1. interesting history about a local famous store....sad about the deaths that happened with the construction...ohhh shopping in downtown Elmira those where the days

  2. Richard Raitt was my father. He had several newspaper ads from the Gorton Coy framed, I don't know what became of them. He told me many stories about the business there; I've collected a good many of them in a post on the "If You're Really from Elmira" Facebook group.