retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a story about how the closing this weekend of Henri Bendel and the recent closure of the Lord & Taylor flagship store on Fifth Avenue may be inevitable, but certainly worth thinking about. “Such emporiums are going the way of the glossy magazine,” the story says, which is going the way of the dodo, but that doesn’t mean we should be cavalier.”

An excerpt:

“What were these grand department stores but monuments to our shared history, repositories of group memory? That’s why, whenever the end of the department store comes up, people immediately begin to quote everything from Émile Zola and ‘The Ladies’ Paradise’ to Judith Krantz and ‘Scruples.’ It’s why Midge Maisel was given a day job working the switchboard at B. Altman.

“They represented not only consumption, but also much more: the way New York became a city of aspiration, invention and reinvention. They were about communion and the treasure hunt for identity; rites of passage individual and generational. In their walls, memories lie. Losing them, we lose a piece of our own past too.”

People didn’t “go to stores to buy, necessarily, but to revel in a world that offered sensory delight without judgment. Unlike in the boutiques of today, no one followed you around watching to see if you would buy. You were anonymous until you didn’t want to be.”

You can read the piece here.
KC's View:
Memory and nostalgia are fine … and I’m old enough to remember being taken to some of these department stores and seeing in them the notion of possibility beyond the suburban bubble of my childhood upbringing. It is good to remain connected to that past … but also not to think that it is somehow superior in nature to the present and future.

When I go online, I can find a lot of evidence of aspiration, invention and reinvention. In fact, it may be a lot more small-d democratic, not limited to people who can go to the big city.

Besides, as Tony Soprano once said, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”