Oct 22, 2010
Readers, do you like department stores?
I practically grew up in them. When I was a kid, we generally went to Gimbels -- well known as Macy's closest competitor (remember Miracle on 34th Street?) and now defunct. Then when I was older, in the mid-Seventies, the place to go was Bloomingdales. I'd meet friends at Bloomingdales, eat frozen yogurt at Bloomingdales, shoplift at Bloomingdales -- it really was like no other store in the world.
As an adult, I rarely go to department stores. I bought some wine glasses in Macy's a few years ago (it's nearby) and a jacket at Barney's Co-op. And that's about it. Most people I know also avoid department stores: they're too big, the service is lousy, and the merchandise is meh -- the same stuff you see everywhere.
My mother, however, still likes department stores. There are plenty of bathrooms, places to eat, elevators, and lots of other people there just like her.
Yesterday she asked if I'd meet her at Lord & Taylor, where she had to return something and shop for dressy pants to wear to my brother's wedding in a few weeks (I know, I know). She'd already bought and returned a slew of stuff at their Eastchester branch, where a friend takes her by car. My mother, whose name is Sonia, doesn't go for glitz and it's not easy for her to find something she likes that fits and flatters. She also won't spend a lot and prefers T.J. Maxx.
Since 2006, Lord & Taylor, which was founded in 1826, has been owned by NRDC Equity Partners, LLC, which also owns the Canadian chain Hudson's Bay Trading Company. Lord & Taylor had been owned by May Company (since 1986) which was then purchased by Federated (which owns Macy's & Bloomingdales), in 2005. Got that? NRDC has poured millions into upgrading the flagship store, apparently with some success.
It's hard for me to judge the results since Lord & Taylor is not somewhere I shop. It certainly looks clean and bright, and it got quite busy.
My mother wears an 8 Petite, so we spent most of our time on the 6th floor, Petites, where there's also a casual coffee cafe operated by Sarabeth's (a little pricey but good).
The merchandise? Well, to me it's the same brands you see everywhere: Jones New York. Michael Kors, DKNY, Calvin Klein, and their own brand, Kate Hill. Everything is made in China, Vietnam; don't "look for the union label" -- you won't find it.
If you want a skirt, say, you can't just go to the skirt section. You have to look at every individual brand area and see what they're showing. It's not very efficient to put it mildly.
Quality seemed OK, and prices mainly under $100 for separates. Not high but not low either. To me it looked a lot like what you'd see at Loehmann's -- and a lot of the stuff will probably end up there soon.
A lot of loose, casual styles in dressy fabrics.
And a fair amount of glitz.
Lots on sale.
The salespeople, who were extremely pleasant, are little more than cashiers. Nobody's on the floor helping you find anything, though if you ask, they'll try to steer you in the right direction. There is one attendant in the dressing room who hangs up clothes and returns them to the racks. It's just like H&M.
The pricing is confusing. They were having some big 25% off sale on most things, and then many people had coupons for an additional 15% off. Some things were already marked down, and customers were often confused about how much things cost or whether they were getting all the markdowns they were entitled to. The poor salespeople seemed a little confused as well.
Don't have the coupon? No worries: they'll give you the coupon at the cash register! (So what's the point?)
And if you're exhausted from shopping you can purchase a Godiva chocolate bar at the cash register! It's like the supermarket.
My mother found a pair of Calvin Klein satin-y dress pants she liked well enough, and asked me to make her a skirt, which she'll need for a friend's grandson's bar mitzvah in late November.
Next we headed down to the shoe department. It was mobbed.
They have a large selection but not much for an eighty-year-old with mobility issues. Almost everything was on sale and almost everything is made in China.
Jessica Simpson was well represented but my mother didn't think she fit the demographic. They also offer brands like Kate Spade (for $300 plus).
Overwhelmed by the chaos, we headed down to the ground floor and the Clinique counter, where my mother wanted to buy some make up for the wedding. My mother doesn't wear foundation or powder or anything, just mascara and lipstick, and she generally wears Almay.
Elayne, the Clinique rep, was extremely helpful, getting a low folding chair for my Mom to sit on since no way could Sonia climb atop one of those ultra-modern bar stools with two pins in her hip and a bad knee. Elayne found her a suitable concealer and foundation, and didn't push the rouge.
Just the concealer and foundation cost nearly $50 -- but she did get a free gift with purchase!
After a quick bite nearby, my mother decided to poke into another shoe store, a chain whose low-rent name I won't mention but you know it. She found a simple black shoe with a comfort sole and a little height for less than $25. Sold!
And that was our day of shopping. I'm exhausted, aren't you?
Friends, do you still shop at department stores? What do you like about them? What don't you like? Can you generally find what you're looking for?
Are you totally over them, but will pop in from time to time to use the bathroom?
What's your favorite department store, if you have one?
Would you like to take Sonia shopping some time?