Carol: Is Frankenberg’s a Real Department Store?

In the 2015 romantic drama ‘Carol,’ Therese Belivet is a young department store clerk at Frankenberg’s in Manhattan, New York. The young woman is an aspiring photographer but hides her ambitions underneath her regular day job at the store. One day, her life is upended when a dazzling woman arrives at Frankenberg’s to buy a doll for her daughter for Christmas. The woman, Carol Aird, catches Therese’s eye as they both start conversing. After Carol leaves her gloves behind on the counter, Therese mails them back to her along with the toy she purchased for her daughter, Rindy. Even though Frankenberg’s seems like an integral part of the 1950s New York City, like it is in the lives of the two women, that isn’t really the case!

Frankenberg’s is a Fictitious Department Store

Frankenberg’s in ‘Carol’ is a fictional department store conceived by writer Patricia Highsmith for her novel ‘The Price of Salt,’ the source text of Todd Haynes’ film. The department store is integral to the plot as it is where the protagonists, Therese Belivet and Carol Aird, meet for the first time. Right before Christmas, Carol visits the department store to pick out a gift for her daughter but cannot get the one she wants. Upon Therese’s suggestion, Carol picks up a train set instead and leaves her mailing address with the former. She also leaves behind a pair of gloves that Therese sends back to her using the address given at Frankenberg’s. These pivotal events, directly or indirectly related to the department store, mark the beginning of the love story between the pair.

The narrative of ‘Carol’ is based on semi-autobiographical events from the author Patricia Highsmith’s life. The meeting between Carol and Therese was inspired by an encounter the writer had with a woman in a mink coat named Kathleen Wiggins Senn. The year was 1948, and Highsmith was working at a Bloomingdale’s store as a salesgirl during Christmas. The same Bloomingdale’s store in New York was later reinvented and reimagined as Frankenberg’s. Thus, the department store, although fictional in its conception, has roots in the real-life experiences of the writer.

To shoot the film, the production crew used a closed-down store in Cincinnati, Ohio, to stand in for Frankenberg’s. The Oskamp Nolting department store at 26 West Seventh Street was closed in 1980 on Christmas Eve. The team overhauled the second floor of the dilapidated establishment to shoot the bustling and vibrant, toy-laden interiors of Frankenberg’s in Manhattan. To shoot the exterior scenes of the department store in the romantic drama, Shillito’s Department Store at 7th & Race Street in Cincinnati was utilized. So, Frankenberg’s is an essential setting that brings the two protagonists close to one another. However, it is confined to fiction and cannot be found in reality.

Read more: Carol Ending, Explained