Dull and plain Catherine lives with her emotionally distant father, Dr. Sloper, in 1840s New York. Her days are empty -- filled with little more than needlepoint. Enter handsome Morris Townsend, a dashing social climber with his eye on the spinster's heart and substantial inheritance.
The wealthiest man in the world, John P. Merrick, is a private person who likes to stay anonymous. One of his many assets, so small that he didn't even knew that he owned it, is Neeley's Department Store. There is labor unrest at the store, and the employees' anger is directed at Merrick, who they hang in effigy outside the store despite not knowing what he looks like. Merrick, not happy at what he sees going on, decides to mete out the rabble-rousers. So he goes undercover as a sales clerk, Thomas Higgins, in the shoe department. However, he soon befriends many of the employees and begins to see things from their point of view.
Zharko, leader of the Romanis in NYC, passes his position of leadership on to his unwilling grandson, Dave, leading to infighting between Dave and his father.