Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where have all the unusual, affordable outfits gone?

In the days before Macy's became Everyone's Local Department store, there were local and/or regional department stores.  Growing up in Detroit, we had J.L. Hudson, which later became Hudson's.  We also had Crowley's.  People in Minneapolis-St. Paul had Dayton's.  In Chicago, the most venerable of stores was Marshall Field's but there were also Evans and Charles A. Stevens for well-priced, good value clothes for women, and Wieboldt's and Goldblatt's for less expensive things for the whole family (when I first moved to Chicago in 1978, I bought myself a t-shirt in the bargain basement at Goldblatt's on State Street for 88¢ and I just recently put it in the bag to give to one of the clothing boxes).  There were many different options, each store having different buyers, price points, points of view, and levels of taste.

It was a good time for shopping because there were a lot of choices.  I think one of the things that made America great is the vast number of choices we mostly have (and cheap produce).  Because of all the choices, I used to enjoy shopping in Chicago (or Detroit, when I visited there).  I no longer do.

Macy's is everywhere so the outfits/shoes/accessories you buy at Macy's on State Street are pretty much like the things you find at the store the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, at Woodfield Mall, in Peoria.  The store on 34th Street in New York is still a very good and enormous store but when Macy's on State Street was Marshall Field's, before Target cut it loose, it was better.  The sales were better -- a couple of times a year they had a coupon in the paper that gave you 25% of everything including sale prices and if you used your Field's charge and racked up $400?  $500? in purchases, you got a coupon for a decent percentage off anything, including cosmetics and fragrances.  It didn't matter how long it took you to get to the $400?  $500? Once you got there -- after three months, after three years -- they sent you the coupon.  Once a year, Macy's sends a check to its best customers that is attached to their credit card statements;  I will never see it as I mostly don't like their merchandise.  They carry the same things as Lord and Taylor and that store always offers coupons for a percentage off, even full-priced merchandise on occasion.  The Marshall Field's merchandise was also better because it appealed to a broader array of customers and the quality was very good.  Yes, fine, the Macy's in Miami will never offer winter coats or probably coats of any sort but the merchandise is not that different otherwise.  It's still Macy's.

There is an Iowa-based store called Von Maur with a couple of locations in suburban Chicago.  They have some different stuff that might be worth investigating but lately I don't like driving for 40 minutes on the outside chance they might have something that might look good and might be affordable.  (Blow-it-out-the-door sales and coupons are not their thing.)  Mostly, though, their merchandise is very much like the merchandise at all the other stores.  Their thing is customer service and they do a decent job of it.  I don't need customer service as much as I need choice.  Seattle-based Nordstrom has one terrific sale a year, a semi-annual sale that is okay, excellent customer service, some decently-priced things, a modest sale rack, and some items that are priced to make one's eyes bulge out from one's head as the word, "Boing!" echoes in one's ears.  The variety is mostly the same in its stores with some locations carrying things the other locations don't have, like the British brand Evans.  (I got a great sweater in Seattle that was never carried at the Chicago stores.)

Last year I went to New York and was very impressed by the merchandise at Macy's on 34th Street and the Lord and Taylor on Fifth Avenue.  There were things the local stores weren't carrying because they've no doubt decided we don't want it.  Did they even try?  At least Nordstrom tries.

So what's my point and get to it already?  People need regional stores, places to shop that reflect the local market.  There used to be locally-owned clothing and gift shops around Chicago that have mostly gone away.  Yes, stores go out of business for various reasons but sometimes they're driven out by rising rents that chains and designers are more easily able to pay or they were made an offer they can't refuse.  Yes, that's driven by greed.  It's like what's happening to Manhattan restaurants -- chains are able to pay rising rents but individual restaurants are not.  What made Chicago shopping and Manhattan dining unique from other places has been forced out by what the market might bear and that gets no one an outfit or a nice meal.

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