Max E. Blatt was already an active player in Atlantic City’s recreational shopping scene, with three stores on the Boardwalk, when he built the city’s largest department store. He first opened the nine-story store at South Carolina and Atlantic avenues in 1922, announcing over a million dollars in bonds for sale to fund his venture. Within a few years, the store would need to weather the Great Depression, and did so by holding its prices low. In 1931, boys’ corduroy knickers were sold for $1.79 and men’s lumber jackets for $1.98. Women’s rayon berets cost only nineteen cents. Blatt claimed that hardly a day went by in his first year that some visiting department store man didn’t drop by and congratulate him in his “splendid new building.” He was so proud of the red Gold-Seal battleship linoleum, which covered every floor that he participated in an early advertisement for the company. People who grew up in Atlantic City during the 1940s and 1950s can still remember having their high school artwork displayed at Blatt’s, and watching Mickey Mouse cartoons in the huge toy department during Christmas shopping season.
By the 1970s, Blatt’s was no more; it had become part of Philadelphia’s regional Lit Brothers chain. The exterior of the building was modernized. Although the basic contours of the original structure are still evident, its hundreds of windows have been sealed by a skin of brick cladding. Only narrow bands of permanently sealed windows, running vertically up the building, admit light to the interior. In 1981, the structure was converted to an office building. The Atlantic City Public School’s Board of Education and Superintendent’s Office now occupy the fifth floor. Boasting a proud tradition of public education, this central office supervises eleven schools and a modern high school complex. Many of the other floors are occupied by staff of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, including a special unit of the New Jersey State Police. This is the only law-enforcement agency permitted to have officers on the floors of Atlantic City’s casinos. The good old days when the city’s youngsters enjoyed Blatt’s eye-popping displays and dreamed of Christmas presents to come are long gone. Except for the convenience store on the first floor, there is not much to draw Atlantic City’s students into the building.