September 3, 2020

"As a teenager, rambling the city with girlfriends, we preferred to shop in thrift stores downtown. But the couches and cavernous 'ladies’ lounges' of midtown department stores..."

"... were on a sacred list of places where we could sit and talk without being scolded, a list that also included dingier spots: the sticky vinyl booths of diners, coffee shops with armchairs, and the carpeted aisles of chain bookstores. Today all those places where we lingered might as well be from another world, they seem so inefficient and wonderful.... Department stores were the slick behemoths of their time, replacing tailors and specialty shops. Now we look back at them as homey and personal — and remember the way they enabled a lost American ideal of middle-class consumerism. A similar fate befell the country’s bookstores: Outcry met the giant Barnes & Noble stores in the 1990s, when they were seen as threatening smaller local rivals. But then those same megastores were displaced and undercut by Amazon, and their disappearance hurt for the same reason Lord & Taylor’s does: no more open bathrooms and cafes. No more freedom to browse for hours. No more indifference that felt like welcome. The pandemic has only underscored this loss. There is no such thing, in 2020, as a place to spend the kind of intimate hours department stores facilitated. We can’t gather spontaneously, certainly not inside, and certainly not for an entire day. Today, I purchase my family’s clothing with a click on my phone in a minute-long break between work, child care and worrying about the news.... The internet enables people from all backgrounds, especially Black shoppers, gender nonconforming and trans shoppers and those with different body types, to find clothes that make them feel great without worrying about the judgment or the profiling they might encounter at retail stores. This is no small benefit: It’s a huge step forward. So yes, the era of department stores has passed...."

Writes Sarah M. Seltzer in "Goodbye to Lord & Taylor, and the Way We Used to Shop/I haven’t shopped there in years. But I’m sad to lose another place to gather, and linger, with friends" (NYT).

51 comments:

mikee said...

Been in a city library recently? Full of smelly men looking at porn on the computers.
Guess what happened at B&N, when they had comfy chairs? Smelly men reading porn mags.
Guess what happened at Lord & Taylors, and every other Mall department store? Smelly men.
Diners, and IHOP and Dennys and Waffle House and other cheap eats places? Men, smelly.

The change in society where perverts and homeless junkie bums were allowed to interface with the civilized world, instead of staying the hell away from everyone who works for a living, killed malls, killed bookstores, killed libraries, killed downtowns, and is currently killing entire cities. To hell with that, and to hell with them. Whatever was done for the homeless and junkies and hobo bums in the past decades, how about we restart that and stop what we are doing now, which is ceding ownership of public spaces to the most abusive people in society.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

The pandemic is perfect timing for democrats.

tcrosse said...

I for one will not miss being dragged along to department stores, to hold my Dear Wife's purse while she tries on thing after thing.

Fernandinande said...

As a nonconforming trans black gender shopper with a different body type, I present to you the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail-order catalog.

Michael K said...

Rioting and looting does tend to reduce the number of open places to gather.

Wince said...

Sarah Marian Seltzer @sarahmseltzer
I wrote a piece about what Lord & Taylor meant to moms and grandmas and girlfriends.

It's a little bit nostalgic and a little bit Marxist.

Temujin said...

I just read that the Hilton Times Square has also closed permanently. As have stores, hotels, restaurants, businesses, all over the country. Many that we don't even realize yet because in some states, we're still mostly locked down, and in other states we're more open but people are not yet fully participating.

We have taken shelter behind the fear that was presented to us in industrial strength. And even those of us who are trying to participate, do so with a bit of looking over our shoulders. Carry your mask and wear it inside a business. Wipe your hands off with sanitizer. Go to a restaurant? Well...sure maybe. If we're seated outside. Or if we know they take steps to keep tables 6' apart and the staff has been tested, or the place regularly disinfects. Hell, it's easier to just order it and have them bring it out to the car, curbside.

When this finally passes, when we reach the point where we realize that the majority of those under age 60 could be walking around with the virus right now and feel great, not even know they have it, but upon finding out they have it, will be locked up in quarantine, sending out warnings to their friends and family via social media, while still feeling fine. When we reach that point, we may be able to begin to start living again. Although for those of us over 65, even us healthy ones, I'm not sure when I'll feel like I'm OK to bring home the gift of Wuhan to my unsuspecting wife.

Some day though, most of the worst of this will be gone. Maybe football will help us crawl back out of our caves. Not sure. But when we do come poking out, only then will we see the actual damage from this Wuhan gift. Only then will we recognize that many, many of the businesses, small and large, that we loved, or thought would always be there, are gone. Simply no longer there.

I apologize for the length of my posts recently. I need to get back to my own blog. Bleh.

William said...

Lost worlds: I don't particularly miss department stores, but it was fun going to Tower or Blockbuster on Saturday night to debate about which movie to pick. This hallowed tradition started when I was an adult and perished before I was very old...You can't step in the same river twice, but it's kind of disturbing when the river disappears before your feet get wet.

Chris N said...

I was just walking the shoreline, gazing for hours at the rolling surf, thinking of serendipity.

On this same emptied strip, I had built my first sand-castle and seen the tide slowly devour it back into the sea. The next day (my mother has photos) some out-of-town kids built a beautiful tower in the same, exact spot.

Many Augusts ago, I had asked my first girl if she wanted to grab an Icee, share a pretzel and chill out under the pier. Electric.

It turns out her father worked with my father at the CIA

Beachcomber's Grill is closed up now. Funtime Industries was charged with reckless endangerment and negligence years ago.

As I stroll past boarded up windows, sharing this reverie, I must ask:

Is that Brazizian transgender dwarf with the BLM shirt, charging her chair towards me with such power and grace, yelling at me in Portugese?

Is this gonna turn violent?

-Michael Beale-Baxter. Journalist. Columnist. Thought-Leader.

Namaste.

wild chicken said...

I miss the old cafes with lunch counters. You could go in alone, talk to the guy next to you, or not. Now you're lucky to find a casino with a bar. Fuck these hipster breweries and coffee houses.

We can't even keep a Perkins open anymore. If was all going down the tubes pre covid.

But I must admit, I don't patronize those places like I used to. So how can I complain?

Joe Smith said...

She had me until "The internet enables people from all backgrounds, especially Black shoppers, gender nonconforming and trans shoppers and those with different body types..."

Everything with lefties inevitably comes down to race, and these days they throw trans in for good measure.

This writer is part of the automaton, herd-mentality left, aimlessly and endlessly pushing their twisted world-view at every possible chance.

William said...

When I was young, a certain amount of respect was shown for the tribal elders. It was felt that they we knew more than you about how to negotiate life and change spark plugs. Nowadays, the sad fact is that the older you get, the less you know about the optimum way to pass through life. Has Spotify negated the need for an MP3 player? I don't know. I was able to make the jump from Walkman to MP3, but I've lost interest in keeping up.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

It's a happy coincidence that the economy is in ruins - from a virus that began in China... and many elite democrats have secret financial ties with the Chinese government.

Enlighten-NewJersey said...

We need mental health reform. There's got to be a better way of treating the mentally ill that's not reminiscent of the insane asylums of old and what occurs today, pretending that bizarre, antisocial, and violent behavior is a lifestyle choice or a failure of our market economy.

Chris N said...

Also, 'My Blood Runs Blue' has a new, extended chapter on Greta Thunberg and Climate Solutions.

Michael Baxter-Beale. Writer. Thinker. Doer.

Kate said...

City article for city people. We had no department stores. We had a mall anchored by a Sears and a Radio Shack.

Scott said...

The upstairs cafe at Barnes & Noble on Union Square in NYC was one of these places to hang out. Post-adolescent drifters would park themselves at tables with stacks of books to read. Haven't been there since the pandemic, though.

Sally327 said...

I'm reading "The Proud Tower" by Barbara Tuchman (about events, etc., leading up to World War I, covering the period 1890-1914) and she makes a fascinating point. According to Tuchman, based on her research, all statements made by how lovely the world was before the War made by persons contemporary with that era were made after the war. That is, no one was waxing eloquent about how glorious life was while they were living those years prior to 1914. She claims people who were nostalgic for those supposedly wonderful times prior to the war were looking back to the past through a "lovely sunset haze of peace and security."

I think some of the same may be happening now. Were people glorifying the mall / department store / wandering through bookstores experience back when we all free to go to those places? I don't think so. I think if all that was considered so joyous and wonderful back then we wouldn't have stopped doing it. It's revisionist history. Not to be confused with fake news.

Skeptical Voter said...

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be as the saying goes. I was thinking today about my life as a young teenager in the mid and late 1950's San Diego suburbs. Easy to be happy and carefree then. Today not so much.

In a material sense the country was, and still is, in a far better place in 2020 than it was in the mid 1950s. I'll reserve judgment on the question of whether we are better off in spiritual, moral, political or ethical matters. Do I prefer the utter hypocrisy and emptiness of Nancy Pelosi or the 1950s Texas ethos of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson? Those two were competent; Nancy is just mean.

RNB said...

"Privileged White Lady" problems are a very rarefied subset of "First World Problems."

gerry said...

This writer is part of the automaton, herd-mentality left, aimlessly and endlessly pushing their twisted world-view at every possible chance.

But this genre helps Progressives feel better about themselves through the implicit virtue-signalling the material provides.

And I must compliment Chris N for entertaining posts. Is that Brazizian transgender dwarf with the BLM shirt, charging her chair towards me with such power and grace, yelling at me in Portugese? made me smile.

Narr said...

I worked at the premier local department store for a year, in college. They were bought later by Rich's and are now a Macy's.

There was a restaurant-cafeteria in the building . . . a book department . . .

It's now one of the anchors of what was once an upscale mall. L&T at the other end, for a while. Now it's a hangout for the overmonied halfwit chirren of the soon-to-disappear Black middle class, with the shootings, wildings, and general stupidity inherent to the breed.

Narr
Gayoso (or Ladies' Better) Shoes, 1971-72

Ralph L said...

Not enough ladies who lunch.

The cafe at the Lord & Taylor at Seven Corners in Falls Church was called the Bird Cage.

Michael K said...

Sally327 said...
I'm reading "The Proud Tower" by Barbara Tuchman (about events, etc., leading up to World War I, covering the period 1890-1914) and she makes a fascinating point.


Another book about the origins of WWI is "The Sleepwalkers," which has some other insights. I am becoming convinced that the Boer War had more to do with the War than is usually appreciated.

Ryan said...

"I haven't shopped there in years but I'm so sad it's gone..."

Nice try. People like that are the reason they failed.

Bilwick said...

I'm sort of feeling her pain, from perhaps a more downscale vantage point.. I'm one of the few pedestrians in a SunBelt megalopolis dominated by the car culture. I'm fortunate enough to live near a supermarket I can walk to. There used to be places inside and immediately outside where I could sit and rest my aging bones. They've been eliminated, and I suspect it was because it was a place where the homeless could gather, in an otherwise gentrified neighborhood. There were also places en route where I could stop and rest, and sometimes ease my aging bladder (although that often necessitated sharing a men's room with the inevitable homeless guy with IBS). These supplementary pit stops have been shut down by the Kung Flu. Things are tough all over.

bbear said...

For now the time of gifts is gone -
O boys that grow, O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill -
Here is dull earth to build upon
Undecorated; we have reached
Twelfth Night or what you will ... you will.

--Louis MacNeice

veni vidi vici said...

The obligatory fawning references to gay/black/trans/queer are to modern journalism what "just the tip" was to randy backseat teenagers of yore.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Our library is still closed, but the B&N is open. The (surviving) restaurants are mostly open again and we don't generally have a homless problem in them.

That's not to say everything is grand.

Wilbur said...

I used to believe department stores used to ventilate their stores with an odorless clear gas, which made men impatient and irritable.

That has to be why accompanying a browsing woman there was such torture, right?

MD Greene said...

The poor dear -- how she has suffered.

Good of the NYT to share these trenchant insights with us.

Roughcoat said...

Woodja, woodja, woo.

Krumhorn said...

I enthusiastically embrace what mikee said at the top of the thread. There is virtually no public space that is free of folks willing to crap up our world. The leftie berate us for our lack of empathy and humanity when we complain, and we are expected to embrace the wide diversity of life whether druggie, tranny, smelly, or any other eee. In LA, you can’t go into a public restroom in a high end mall without finding filthy men camping out and pulling their puds. The air is rancid with bum jizz.

- Krumhorn

todd galle said...

My wife's cousin-in-law was a buyer for the Boscov's franchise for many years, and still has impeccable taste herself. That was when there were tea-rooms for mid-shopping rests, where sales staff would mingle with examples of accessories and suggest scarves, hats, etc. amongst the diners. Total class operation, and in Allentown, PA, not NY. I think she still gets Holiday cards from the Boscov family, who had to rebuy the company to save it from being ruined.

I experienced this sort of customer service when young in Philly. My uncle and I would take semi-annual train trips to downtown just to visit the Wannamaker's Stamp section (5th or 6th floor - can't recall). He spent quite a bit on stamps (I inherited the collection which when added to mine, fills 4 dresser drawers), and was known on sight, so we had a constant attendant as we perused the cases. But he always said, open the safe. We'd be lead to a table where the good stuff was offered. He would always ask by years, US only. We would spend all afternoon there, which is how he taught me the tricks and pitfalls of collecting. He would always buy something worth the attention, which is why he got it.

I shall regret the demise of department stores, because Wal-Mart is the replacement. No 6th floor stamp department at Wal-Mart. The only remaining place I receive similar service now is in Jewelry stores if I'm looking for a present for my wife, but I'm certain that is 25% service, and 75% security.

Sorry for rambling on, but we're losing, as a society, quite a bit in this maneuver to digital commerce, and I don't think a lot of the younger folks understand what community and service means anymore, or care to at that. Plus, I'm getting old, and will occasionally 'wear an onion on my belt' on the way to Shelbyville, which I'll plead as an excuse.

mockturtle said...

Though living in Seattle, I never really warmed to Nordstrom but when I was young, I just loved the old Frederick & Nelson department store downtown. Now I hate any kind of shopping. Fortunately, now we can get even groceries delivered, something that used to be impossible.

MadisonMan said...

Good Morning Yesterday. You wake up, and time has slipped away.
And suddenly it's hard to find the memories you left behind.
Remember? Do you remember?


I recall my first scientific meeting in New Orleans, I tried to find Maison Blanche on Canal. The building was there, but the store was gone.

I went back to Ohio. But my city was gone.

Amadeus 48 said...

Marshall Field's waiting room in its State Street store was a thing unique in my life. Over by the phone booths they had directories from every major city in the country. Waiting for my mother once I looked up my grandparents' number in Pasadena. Could I call them? She came back before I got up the nerve to try.

By the way, think about letting a 12 year old and a 10 year old loose in downtown Chicago in 2020. Few would do it. My mother did it with plans for a rendezvous in the waiting room at Field's in 1958. The ground rules were we couldn't leave the store. Off to the stamp shop downstairs! Then the bookshop!

Sigh.

Narr said...

One of my proudest accomplishments is turning my wife from a Gallagherian "I'm Shopping . . . I'm Shopping . . ." zombie to someone like myself, who would rather go to the dentist than "shopping."

Narr
And she really was hard to fit

rcocean said...

Yes, making Bezos a billionaire 200 times over, and destroying any number of small businesses across the USA is a good thing, because .... wait it for it....it helps minorities. LOL. The liberal bourgeoise of the MSM never change do they? Everything they like and everything that helps them, mysteriously "fights racism" or is "good for Gays and people of color".

I got news for the author, a lot of black women like to shop. Including at those "dingy" places she looks down on. And contrary to bigots, I always found plenty of black folks at Barnes and Noble when I went there. But no doubt AS BLACK BODIES they are now happy they can't sit down, have a coffee, and read a book at B&N. Good Lord, the Bullshit the NYT puts out.

MD Greene said...

rocean has a point there.

The B&N nearest my house always has had a large clientele of young African American adults. Always figured they regarded it as a bookstore AND a spot to meet interesting persons they might like to date.

Michael K said...

Marshall Field's waiting room in its State Street store was a thing unique in my life.

Christmas at Fields was a highlight for my mother for most of her 103 years.

I've made my last rip to North Michigan.

Laslo Spatula said...

- Krumhorn 9/3/20, 1:18 PM:

"The air is rancid with bum jizz."

THAT is the opening sentence to a novel I want to read.

I am Laslo.

RobinGoodfellow said...

“Blogger tcrosse said...
I for one will not miss being dragged along to department stores, to hold my Dear Wife's purse while she tries on thing after thing.”

Yes! That is torture.

Unknown said...

I rode the Pink Pig at Rich’s.

KellyM said...

It's sad that the days of the regional department store are gone. Macy's to me will only ever be the flagship store in Herald Square, not the impostors that took over nationwide and gobbled up great stores like Marshall Field's in Chicago, and Jordan Marsh in Boston.

Filene's, Jordan's competitor across the street, had a nice ladies lounge tucked up on an upper floor. It took some work to find it but once inside it was a quiet spot with couches and even ashtrays on elaborate stands for customers who smoked (this was the mid 80s).



mesquito said...

My mom arrived in America on a Saturday in 1954. On Monday she got a job at Lord and Taylor in Manhattan. Answering the phone. Her English was ok but she couldn’t understand NooYawk. They moved her to the dressing rooms after a few days.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Laslo Spatula said...

THAT is the opening sentence to a novel I want to read.

If you're quick you can probably snag the movie rights before one of the big studios snaps it up

Ralph L said...

My grandmother started in Foundations at our city's local department store, now a parking lot. She did so well they moved her to ladies' ready-to-wear. She made enough to buy a $300 mohair sofa in 1925 (which we still have). The owner begged her to come back after my father was born.

DavidUW said...

There's a real loss to random meetings.

I quantified several million dollars of revenues I generated over the past 5 years by randomly meeting people, separate from work. but they ended up being clients.

The criminally stupid lockdown will have a lot of long-term consequences.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

If you want the brick and mortar stores to stay open - you gotta go back and shop their again.

Or - it will be UPS, USPS, and Fedex trucks all over the streets/all the time. Which is the case in my neck of the woods.

Deb said...

@Narr:
"I worked at the premier local department store for a year, in college. They were bought later by Rich's and are now a Macy's."

I know exactly what you're talking about. And the book buyer at downtown Rich's was legendary.