The Neiman Marcus Company was established in 1907 as a local specialty store and has become an internationally recognized innovator in fashion and merchandising. The founders of the store were Herbert Marcus, his sister Carrie M.Neiman, and Carrie's husband, Abraham L. (Al) Neiman. Herbert Marcus had been a buyer for Sanger Brothers and Carrie an assistant buyer for A. Harris and Company; Sanger and Harris were the two leading department stores in Dallas at the time. Neiman had also been in department-store sales and had met Carrie at the Harris store. The opening of Neiman Marcus took place under unpromising conditions. The country was in the midst of an economic recession known as the Panic of 1907. Both Carrie and Herbert Marcus missed the opening; Carrie was in the hospital recovering from a miscarriage, and Herbert was at home with typhoid fever. Neiman Marcus tried to differentiate itself from other stores, such as Sanger Brothers and A. Harris, from the beginning. The founders emphasized that Neiman Marcus was not a department store but a specialty store, featuring women's outerwear and millinery. Marcus and the Neimans stressed high-quality, ready-to-wear items in an era when clothing was usually one or the other. The store also developed a reputation for high prices as well as high quality, even though its founders depended primarily on the sale of medium-priced items.
The store grew up along with Dallas and with Texas. After a fire in 1913, Neiman Marcus moved to the corner of Main and Ervay in downtown Dallas. The store's wealthier clientele represented mainly the cotton aristocracy of East and north central Texas. Later the oil-rich of East and West Texas added to Neiman's growing reputation regionally and nationally. During the 1920s two notable developments took place. Stanley Marcus, Herbert's eldest son, joined the business in 1926; "Mr. Stanley" later assumed leadership of the company. In 1928 a combination of business and personal disagreements led to the end of Al Neiman's association with Neiman Marcus. He sold his interest in the firm for $250,000; shortly afterwards, his marriage to Carrie Marcus ended in divorce. The Great Depression of the 1930s did not hit Neiman's as hard as it did other firms in other parts of the country. The store had just completed a major expansion when the hard times began. Neiman's suffered relatively small losses only in 1931 and 1932 and by 1935 had returned to predepression levels of sales and profits. An important factor in this growth during the depression was the discovery in 1930 of the East Texas oilfield, which produced a new group of millionaires and Neiman's customers.
World War II led to a general economic boom in Texas and another expansion of the store. As a family-run operation, Neiman's was much affected by the dislocations of the war. Stanley Marcus served with the War Production Board in Washington while brothers Lawrence, Edward, and Herbert, Jr., also involved in store operations, served in the armed forces. Despite wartime restrictions and shortages, Neiman Marcus retained its reputation for high quality and personal service. The postwar period led to major changes in Neiman's operations. In 1950 Herbert Marcus, Sr., died, leaving Carrie as chairman of the board and Stanley as the store's chief executive officer and driving force. Expansion also took on a new meaning. In 1951 Neiman's opened its first branch store in Dallas and also expanded its main store. It opened a Houston branch in 1955. The company's growth was interrupted when a major fire struck the downtown Dallas store in 1964; resulting in $9 million in insurance payments, it was at that time the costliest department-store fire in history. By the late 1960s Neiman's had four stores in operation-two in Dallas, one in Houston, and one in Fort Worth-but desire for continued growth was blocked by a lack of capital. In 1969 the decision was made to merge with the California-based Broadway-Hale Stores, which later merged with yet another retailing group to form Carter, Hawley, Hale, Incorporated. Neiman's, with outlets across the nation, became part of the specialty-store division of the parent company. Stanley Marcus became a top-ranking executive with Carter, Hawley, Hale, leaving his son Richard as president of Neiman Marcus. In 1987 the company was restructured, and General Cinema became the majority shareholder of Neiman Marcus. In May 1989 Allen I. Questrom succeeded Richard Marcus as president.
Neiman's success and reputation over the years have depended on a number of innovations in fashion and merchandising. Neiman's was the first retail store in Texas to mount a major national advertising campaign. Neiman's has always followed a liberal credit policy, dating from the earliest days of the store when cotton producers were permitted to defer payments until after their crops were harvested. In 1938 Neiman's introduced its annual fashion award, which not only honored outstanding designers but also promoted the store itself. The first of the annual "fortnights," sales featuring merchandise and cultural exhibits from other nations, was held in 1957, the embodiment of Neiman's successful blending of the cultural with the commercial. The store's Christmas catalog is also a widely publicized seasonal event. The concept of "selling the store," not just a particular item, has made Neiman Marcus a Texas institution with an international reputation.