For some years now, I’ve bemoaned the disappearance of so many wonderful department stores, as I’m sure many of you have as well. Various comments from some previous Posse posts got me thinking about how the great American department store seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur, for the most part. And news about recent store closings, including the Barney’s in Dallas and several Saks store closings, including the one in the Dallas Galleria, really hit home to me. As a friend told me not long ago, “The way things are going, in the next 30 years, we’ll probably be left with two places to shop: Wal-Mart and Macy’s.” Good heavens, I certainly hope not, but there’s no doubt that retail is not what it once was.
Anyway, my love of fashion (and eventually fragrance) was sparked by a magazine and the allure of glamorous-sounding stores across the nation. But first, a little back story: My elderly and frugal grandparents raised me, so you can imagine that I was not a very fashionably dressed girl, wearing a lot of hand-sewn clothes and hand-me-downs. We lived in a small town without a lot of wealth so it wasn’t such a big deal, and I never thought too much about it.
But one day in September, all that changed. I was sick at home in bed and asked my grandmother if she would please buy me a 16 magazine at the store (I know I’m dating myself here, but I had to have my David Cassidy fix). Well, bless her heart if she didn’t come home by mistake with — you guessed it — a Seventeen magazine. At first I was quite disappointed, but boredom set in and once I started going through that back-to-school issue, there was no stopping me. Man, I wore that hefty issue out looking at all the fall fashions (plaid skirts, Shetland sweaters, etc.) that I’d rarely ever need in rural central Florida. But the seed was sown and I was hooked. And after a few months’ subscription, poring over issues cover to cover, you could’ve asked me the name of almost any store and I could tell you where it was located.
Several I recall fondly from my youth in Florida (although some were elsewhere in the nation): Jordan Marsh (the one in West Palm Beach, Fla.) was probably my first childhood experience of a high-end store. It seemed the epitome of elegance and class. Walking along on the plushly carpeted aisles, it was so quiet that the air seemed perfumed with luxury, leaving me with a feeling bordering on reverence.
A few miles away in uber-ritzy Palm Beach: Bonwit Teller. I never did get to see the NYC flagship but did visit this Worth Avenue store in the late ‘70s; very cool. And I remember loving their signature shopping bags with violets on them.
Other favorite Florida retailers that are no longer: Ivey’s, Burdine’s, Maas Brothers, Robinson’s.
And one of the saddest closings of all time, in Chicago: Marshall Field’s (above). The whole chain became Macy’s stores but the famed State Street flagship store especially got folks up in arms. People are still angry and vocal about this one. I remember when I found out that Macy’s would be taking it over, I made a pilgrimage to the flagship that holiday season so I could experience it before it was gone: view the Great Tree, have chicken pot pie and a Frango dessert at the Walnut Room, and admire clothing on their gorgeous designer floor, dubbed the 28 Shop, for its global collection of haute couture.
The following doors in California I had only read about in magazines, but longed to visit them: I. Magnin, Bullock’s and Bullock’s Wilshire, and the Broadway. For a while I got catalogs from I. Magnin and swooned over them. Alas, by the time I got to the West Coast as a middle-aged adult, it was no longer. (I think Macy’s is in at least part of I. Magnin’s old space in San Francisco.)
Here are some other stores, gone but not forgotten:
Foley’s, Kaufmann’s, Famous Barr, B. Altman, Wanamaker’s, Garfinckel’s, Filene’s, Abraham & Straus, Hecht’s, Gayfer’s, Gimbel’s, Hudson’s, Lamson’s, LaSalle’s, the Lion Store, the May Co., May-Cohen, Davison’s, Rich’s, Parisian, Pizitz, the Bon Marche, Kiralfy’s, Kirven’s, Miller & Rhoads, Maison Blanche, Hecht’s, L.S. Ayres, Liberty House, City of Paris
And of course, I’m sure I’m missing quite a few, including many lamented retailers from Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia and everywhere around the globe. So feel free to jump in and share your favorite stores and memories as we remember those days of shop-shop-shop-‘til-you-drop (even if it was mostly window-shopping, at least in my case).