Ever since I first discovered its existence some years back, while researching the city's past, I've had a mild obsession with Sig Klein's Fat Men's Shop. From the late 1800s until who-knows-when, it stood at 52 3rd Avenue, near the corner of 10th Street. For close to a century, it served the needs of fat men all over.
Let's take a look back at Klein's timeline...
from under the 3rd Avenue El
Klein's was the subject of a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece in 1931, a year before Mr. Klein died in 1932.
Ben Shahn photographed the shop around 1935. The painter Paul Feeley painted it in 1936. Klein's can also be seen in the background of Berenice Abbott's 1937 photo of the Stuyvesant Curiosity Shop.
Kiplinger's Personal Finance wrote in 1949, "The store is well-known in New York for its huge weather-beaten sign featuring an enormous fat man wearing a form-fitting union suit," above the famous slogan: "If everyone was fat there would be no war." (Apparently attributable to one Dr. Frank Crane, a Presbyterian minister fond of making up aphorisms.)
For a peek inside the shop, check out LIFE for their shot of a rather rotund man being fitted for a suit. And Getty Images has two excellent exterior close-up shots, one from the north, and another from the south--both taken in 1947.
Throughout the 1940s, Klein's advertised in popular magazines, proclaiming their prodigious sizes.
Advertisement in Popular Science, 1943
In 1955, Meyer Berger wrote about the place, noting that the "two low gray buildings that house the gargantuan sizes date from 1804," and that Klein "launched the specialty shop back in the Eighties, when most of his customers were German neighbors too fond of their beer. 'The more they drank, the bigger they got.'"
East Side News columnist George Freedman got a similar story in 1954 for his "Did You Know That??" column, crediting the beer-loving Germans for the birth of Klein's:
click to enlarge
In the '60s, things started going downhill for Klein's. In 1963, the Times reported, "Garments Stolen (Sizes 62 and Up) at Fat Men's Store."
The Klein's sign then shows up in Bill Binzen's wonderful book of photos, Tenth Street, published in 1968. In the same time frame, possibly the most recent trace of it appears in this undated shot of that era by Tony Marciante. The photo is from inside the Brata Gallery at 56 Third Avenue, from the time when art galleries took over on 10th Street and 3rd.
I can't find any mention of Klein's from the 1970s. No, I take that back--it is briefly mentioned in a 1978 New York Times article about a store called London Majesty, for "royally proportioned men." The writer states, at the end of the article, "shops for king-sized men have come a long way since they had names like Sig Klein's Fat Men's Shop."
Since they had names like Sig Klein's--past tense.
c. 1950s, Klein's sign at 4th Ave. and 10th St.
So was Klein's gone by 1978--or just forgotten? Did it live to see its 100th birthday in the 1980s? What happened to it?
A walk over to its former address shows that the two gray 1804 buildings that once housed Klein's are gone today. A squat, khaki-colored building stands there now, housing a surgical supply pharmacy and a nail salon.
There is no sign of Klein's.