Updated: Dec 18, 2018
I got the news late. Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on 5th Avenue was closing. I had to make one last pilgrimage to this fabled store even though I’m not much of a shopper unless it has something to do with plants, books, or chandeliers. So, last Friday, off I went to see the building one last time. Back in the 80’s, Lord & Taylor was one of the mandatory stops, (along with B. Altman’s and Macy’s) during the Christmas holidays to see the beautiful window displays. Their only window display now is a few stark birch tree trunks with a few geese back-lit with a piercing blue light. The bleakness and sterility wasn’t lost on me.
The interior of the store was always elegantly festive with white branches covering the vaulted ceilings festooned in white lights. Now it is cavernously empty with a few decorative items here and there. The display cases were mostly empty but the workers attempted to remain cheerful and helpful as always! Over the years, the store made changes and “improvements” including putting down marble and porcelain floors that were as smooth and shiny as diamonds. Later, I would see boxes of these tiles for sale but I would have needed a truck, a big truck, like a semi, to haul away this bargain so that wasn’t going to happen.
Riding the escalators up to each floor I witnessed pure mayhem. You’d think they were giving things away but there were signs on every floor saying “Everything Must Go” with big discounts of 40% and higher. I rode the escalators all the way to the 9th floor and watched this glorious chaos. There was nothing left in the men’s department on the 9th floor except for some soviet-looking shoes and a few neon pink or purple bikini underwear. Talk about contrast. I’m sure Putin would have issues with this someway, somehow! I guess flashy is out at the gym too. Speaking of purple, I remembered that back in the 80’s, I bought a purple bathrobe that I still use! Talk about quality!
For some reason the 10th-floor was open so I went up. It was like a peripheral heaven for me (albeit without the mojitos.) The entire floor was chock full of all of the many props, mannequins, display cases, and tools that the store used to make their displays so magical. The mannequins were especially poignant and eerily disturbing. Many were faceless; headless…all seemed to be waiting around for the impending denouement that was on the horizon. Everything was for sale! It was a stark contrast to the hordes of mostly women on the lower floors who had reconciled with the store’s closing. Most were voraciously looking for bargains, doing their part to support America’s favorite pastime of unabashed, excessive consumerism.
Therein is the irony for me. On the one hand, I’m saddened to see the store go. It was a tradition to visit the store during the holidays, relish the windows, and window-shop even when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together…not much has changed. I feel like a portion of the New York experience is being aborted. I remember feeling the same when B. Altman’s closed so many years ago. I think of all the people losing their jobs, especially as the New Year begins. I wonder about the long-term employees who devoted so many years of service. Is their labor, so imbued with dignity, simply to be forgotten? Remember there is great dignity and a sacredness in work, all work, whatever it may be. Are we all just pawns to the vagaries of the market place? Do we just submit to market forces beyond our control that bombard our lives here and there?
These questions were galloping through my head as I walked among the props. I was thrilled to see one portion of a Christmas display window featuring a pipe organ that I remember from years past. On one table, I inspected an old Singer sewing machine that was probably used for generations. A bargain at $75! I spied a small chandelier on the floor along with a box of crystal garland strands. I had to have it! Things like this, or things like pots and pans, or anything that you’ll use for years, durably remind the user of where they came from or who gave them. (When I graduated high school a neighbor game me a good frying pan. Yep! That’s what a 17-year old wants. I must have look horrified but she said to me: “You’ll find that you’ll use this frequently when you’re away in college. You’ll also find that every time you do use it, you’ll remember and think of me. She was right. I still have the pan and think of her and say a little prayer every time I use it. She’s been dead for many years but she found a stealthy way to ensure her memory survives.)
After two discounts, I walked away with the chandelier and the crystals for less than $20. When I find a place for the fixture, it’ll always remind me of Lord & Taylor and the associated happy memories of days gone by. It’ll be a conversation starter and hopefully will illuminate many happy future moments. In the end, I suppose that the sum and total of this experience. It’s important to look back on places and things with happy memories but at the same time it’s paramount to not get stymied by change and new horizons.
I was told that the building is being turned into offices. I’m sure future tenants will enjoy the marvelous views of 5th Avenue. I hope that that the employees at Lord & Taylor will find other places to spread their cheerful, engaging countenance. Let’s pray that we are all able see the inherent blessings in our endings and closings and look with promise and hope to our new horizons and beginnings. Blessings of Christmas to everyone!