New-York News

Veteran reporter recovers the stories of forgotten women business leaders

Julie Satow was an ace real estate reporter at Crain’s New York Business when the big story was companies returning downtown after 9/11. In 2007 she broke the shocking news that tenants were paying more than $100 per square foot for trophy Manhattan office space. (The rate has since doubled.)

“I love reporting,” she said. “Talking to people, going down the rabbit holes to uncover that thing you have to know, writing about it–I love it.”

But about a decade ago Satow decided she’d had enough of panning for nuggets of news and dedicated herself to writing books. Her second, When Women Ran Fifth Avenue, is being published by Doubleday and comes out June 4.

Satow’s new book focuses on the female executives who really ran New York’s department stores back when Gimbels and Stern’s graced the earth. She tells the true story of Geraldine Stutz, a magazine editor who became president of Henri Bendel in 1957 and whose customers were the society women known today as Truman Capote’s “swans.”

“Stutz was the fashion arbiter of New York,” Satow said. “She dressed Babe Paley.”

Satow’s first book, The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel, came out in 2019. Kirkus Reviews described it as “an infectiously fun read,” and Booklist called the book “social history at its best.” In The New York Times, Tina Brown praised Satow’s “dazzling fact riffs.” 

Switching from newspaper reporting to book writing was anything but simple for Satow. She struggled to find a worthy idea until attending a Newswomen’s Club seminar, where she met a reporter who encouraged her to tell the Plaza’s story.

The transition from newspapers to books is one few reporters successfully make anymore, in part because few publishers have the resources to give any author’s book the distribution and marketing push necessary to rise above the herd. That herd includes more than 2 million self-published books every year, according to Publishers Weekly

To uncover long-forgotten information about the famous hotel, Satow accessed a database of millions of newspaper and academic articles called ProQuest using her New York Public Library card. Reporting and writing the book took three years.

“When I started I’d never written anything longer than 1,500 words, and here I was facing 5,000-word chapters and wondering, How will I do that?” she recalled. “It was intense; it was fun. It could also be tedious.”

Satow’s agent immediately hounded her for another book. She knew she didn’t want to write about a building again but wasn’t sure what to do next until seeing a Times article about the demise of department stores that mentioned some women she’d never heard of. She wondered who they were.

These business leaders weren’t the subjects of business-school case studies, didn’t leave behind ghost-written memoirs or piles of papers in university libraries, and most didn’t have children. Satow hired a genealogist to track down nieces and nephews delighted to reminisce about their beloved aunts. Soon she had a series of human stories, the kind that could stand out to someone browsing the shelves or clicking through their Kindle.

“Really what this book is about is women who had fulsome careers when that was hard to do,” Satow said. “There are a lot of stories like that, and more of them need to be told.”

Aaron Elstein , 2024-03-13 10:03:03

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