In 1928, George Farkas, a Brooklyn native, opened a store on Third Avenue in the Bronx with $7,500 and named it for his deceased father, Alexander. Catering to the well-to-do middle class, the store offered discounted designer clothing and high-quality private label goods. Its advertising slogan at one time was "You'll find Alexander's has what you're looking for; how lucky can you get?!"
The chain thrived even during the Great Depression, and opened a location on Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse in The Bronx in 1933. At its heyday in the 1930s, this store was known for its discount bargains and had more sales per square foot than any other store in the United States.
Farkas was known for being a master at selecting locations for his stores, buying instead of leasing the real estate they were established on.
In February 1959, the company opened a store in Rego Park, Queens.
In 1963, the company opened its flagship store on 59th street in Manhattan after it bought the land from a company controlled by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. for what seemed like a high price of $125 per square foot.
In December 1968, Alexander's became a public company via an initial public offering, raising $41.17 million, in part to prevent a takeover from competitor E. J. Korvette. Founder George Farkas retired that year due to failing health and one of his sons, Alexander S. Farkas, became CEO.
In the 1970s, customers defected to larger competitors such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's, and discount stores such as Kmart.
Upon completion of The Mall at the World Trade Center in 1974, Alexander's became its anchor store. The location occupied roughly 1/6 of the WTC's 500,000 square foot mall, the largest in New York City, and was located underneath 4 World Trade Center, immediately to the east of the south tower.
In 1980, after a proxy fight, Interstate Properties, controlled by Steven Roth, took control of the company, seeking to maximize the value of its real estate.
In 1981, management attempted to expand offerings beyond leisure apparel.
In 1984 at the request of Interstate Properties, then holding a 13% stake, Alexander Farkas resigned as CEO and was succeeded by his brother, Robin (1933-2018).
In 1986, Donald Trump bought approximately 20% of the company.
1987 was the last year in which the company made a profit from its retail operations.
In 1988, Interstate and Trump each raised their stakes to 27% of the company, but Trump pledged his interest as collateral for a personal loan from Citibank, and in 1991 was forced to turn over his holdings to the guarantor.
In 1992, Roth and creditors forced the company into bankruptcy and the company shut all 11 stores on May 15, 1992, laying off 5,000 people. The bankruptcy was also triggered by a put option Gruss family held to sell its 18% interest in the partnership that owned the 59th street store to Alexander's for $35 million and the company did not have the money.
In 1993, the company emerged from bankruptcy. The combination of an increase in value in its real estate holdings and shedding of its liabilities caused its stock to skyrocket from $8.50 per share before it declared bankruptcy to $57 per share a year later.
In 1995, Vornado Realty Trust bought the interest from Citicorp (formerly owned by Donald Trump) for $54.8 million.
In November 2012, the company sold the Kings Plaza mall in Brooklyn to Macerich for $751 million and used the proceeds to pay a $122 per share dividend to stockholders.