Downtown Crossing is an area of Boston that has always been focused on shopping. The first large-scale department stores in Boston appeared here in the 19th century and there have always been many restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, music stores, and other retail businesses.
This historical shopping district is defined as the area west of Boston's Financial District and east of the Boston Common, on Tremont and Washington Street from Beach to School Street. Pedestrian-only zones have been created on Washington Street between Bromfield and Temple Streets and on sections of Winter Street and Summer Street. Street vendors are plentiful.
The district was originally a residential area of Boston in the 1700s and early 1800s -- upscale townhouses lined Summer Street. The Great Boston Fire of 1872 destroyed the neighborhood. When the area was rebuilt, the department stores took over. The Jordan Marsh Department Store had already been there since 1841 as a wholesaler -- the fire allowed them to rebuild as a huge retail store. Filene's opened in 1881 and split into two independent entities: Filene's Department Store and Filene's Basement. From 1895 on, stores popped up all over the downtown district, turning the area into a destination for shoppers from all over the northeast United States.
The Downtown Crossing area was called the Ladder District at the turn of the 20th century because a street map of the area looked like a ladder with rungs. Through both World Wars, stores thrived in Boston's downtown. But the challenges facing all cities came into play in the 1950s and 1960s, with shoppers living out in the suburbs and shopping at malls near their homes. In the 1990s, Macy's bought the Jordan Marsh store and changed the name to Macy's, Filene's Basement closed and the original Filene's, though now a designated historical site, was gutted and remains empty across the street from the new Macy's.
Two other sites, however, remain lively and full of shopping opportunities. The Corner Mall at Washington and Winter Streets has several retail stores and a large food court. Millennium Place, along Washington Street, houses the Ritz Carlton Boston Common hotel in two towers, one thirty-eight floors and the other thirty-six floors, with many stores near the lobby area.
An MBTA subway station serves Downtown Crossing, with the Park Street and State Street stations nearby. Bus services are also available on the Silver Line. The area is very pedestrian-friendly.