Wed 3 Dec, 2003 09:23 am
The CBS Sunday Morning Show offered a lame story on the dying of department stores. Retailers and economists and journalists offered stupid comments.
I grew up in Detroit where THE department store was the J. L. Hudson Co. When I was a child, it was worth while to go "dowtown" to this store which once sponsored one of the nationally telecast Thanksgiving day parades. Each floor offered different classes of merchandise and a different look.
When I was in high school, a store that was based in Jackson, MI, Jacobson's, expanded to stores in Ann Arbor, Birmingham and Dearborn. Each community was different. Jackson was home to a major prison and to farms, Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan, Birmingham was like Wellesley or Newton and Dearborn was much more blue collar and the home of Ford Motor Co. The store's merchandise varied by location and if a dress was sold in Dearborn, it may not have been sold in Birmingham.
Jacobson's recognized its customers, not only by their status in life but as individuals.
At that time, my friends and I would often walk the three miles to Michigan Ave, Dearborn's Main Street, to shop. The street was lined with independent stores, privately owned and run. There was not as much merchandise per store but it was selected by the owner and there was real variety.
There were chains but the merchandise offered wasn't as dense. You didn't paw through forty pairs of pink cordoroy jeans to find your size but rather there was one pair in each size per color.
The pundits on CBS blamed the malls but a few years back, desperately needing shorts, I went to my local mall and found that every store sold the same "designers." the hookum is that you can not design jeans. Jeans are a thing much like mayonnaise that doesn't require description or designing.
So, consolidated ownership, lack of response to individuals and lack of competition account for the failure of the dept store.
Laying off workers is another contributing factor: if you earn no money, you have no money to spend.
Hmmm, I didn't realize department stores were dying. We have two big ones here, Bon-Macy's and Nordstrom's, both of which seem to be doing really well. In addition, there is a Penney's which I don't go to, but someone said it is one of the biggest in the country. It also seems to be doing OK. Sears is still big here, too.
One thing that has changed buying habits, I think, is the emergence of "warehouse" shopping. Costco does a booming business... but talk about lack of variety, sigh.
Warehouse or discount stores have come and gone. There were so many in the late 60s in Detroit that you couldn't keep track of them. Arlen's. Imperial's. K-Mart. And at least three or four others. Only K-Mart survived and it is having trouble. I frankly don't see much difference between them as they come and go. I think the novelty is in the name. When shoppers grow tired of them, they quit going until a new one comes along.
Too many of anything is bad. A chain that was once strong here in New England, Bradlee's, which was a sort of slightly upscale K-Mart failed because there were too many of them,too close together. I could visit at least four stores without driving any more than 7 miles! No wonder the firm went under. Branches of stores probably need to be about 25 miles apart.
I blame it on Wal-Mart. We all want a deal, but at what cost?
I'm not a fan of department stores. I prefer places run by the owners. When my daughter was of prom age, people would say, "Lord & Taylor has nice dresses." Preferrred the shop on Mass Ave just outside Harvard Sq. or Anoki where the stuff was designed by the woman who owned this small chain.
I don't think WalMart has the impact everyone supposes. The lack of originality and the first fear of the city replaced by the parking hassle has more weight.
POM - Lord Taylor's been outed for cross-dressing?
WalMart has cut a swath across the country, annihilating smaller stores all along the way. It's a widely reported phenomenon. Just lately, it appears that FAO Schwartz is verging on bankruptcy, largely because of this kind of competition.
If we're happy shopping at WalMart, then that's what we deserve. Because at this rate, that's the only option we'll have!
Hmmm, I didn't realize department stores were dying. We have two big ones here, Bon-Macy's and Nordstrom's, both of which seem to be doing really well.
Piffka, a part of the answer is in your response. I wouldn't say that department stores are dying as much as losing their individuality. Bon-Macy's used to be two separate stores. Macy's and Bon-Marche (I remember those stores Lousiana, in particular). One conglomerate (Federated Stores, Inc.?) bought both stores and after squeezing that concept dry, working both stores separately, they were merged together. And they have utilized this poor concept, merging Macy's, in particular, with smaller department stores all over the place, reorganizing and, in my opinion, destroying the ambiance of each store. Bon Marche, Burdines, Lazaras, Goldsmith's, Rich's in the Southeast. They all fall under Macy's banner now, owned by one big group. These mergers have made for some very boring shopping nowadays.
eoe is right, Piffka, re the Bon Marche. Some years ago, the best department store in Seattle was Frederick & Nelson. Gone but not forgot...
Oh, hey, I know about the Bon and Macy's merging... (sheesh -- I'm the main shopper in my family). They've only merged here in name in, I think, September. Nordstrom's is, I heard, doing pretty well -- it is also the superior store.
What I meant by warehouse stores wasn't Target or <shudder> Wal-Mart. I meant Costco, though I think there are some other versions. Costco provides high-quality department store stuff at discount prices but... big BUT... you have a v. limited selection. Now if we'd all bought Costco stock about 15 years ago when they had six stores, we'd be doing OK.
My ex-husband was involved in constantly founding small technical firms with the idea that they would be sold to larger firms. Not so they could grow and benefit people with their science or as places of employment.
Did anyone see Jim Bouton on Bill Moyer's Now last Friday? Another slant on consolidation, this time media.
I read the transcript of the Bouton interview on Moyers' show. Yes, it certainly does provide another reason to fight against corporate consolidation! Alas, I sometimes wonder if the war's already been lost...
I wonder the same thing. I have considered moving away from Boston to Western MAss. We think further away from the city means clean air, water and land. Boy, are we deluded.