Like others, it’s fair to say, or at least like other oldies, I had not purchased any new clothing in a year. I sometimes wore the same shirt and jeans for a month.The only people my well-worn appearance might bother were the shoppers at Safeway and Walgreens and they too weren’t dressed for a job interview.
But this morning I’m getting spruced up. Took my first shower in two weeks. I’m busting out of covid jail tomorrow with a United flight back east, three weeks of new old friends, family and sights. I’m a meticulous packer maximizing every inch of my mid-sized, two wheel Eagle Creek carry-on suitcase. Thinking twilight time with cocktails poolside in Connecticut and Long Island and a screened-in porched in Atalanta, I’d need a cotton summer sweater. I knew where to look. On a shelf in my bedroom closet I found one, the only one I had, forgotten and blue. Accommodating. Until I tried it on. Having gained undisclosed pounds since 2019 the sweater wore tight, freakishly tight said my honest mirror. I left the sweater where I found it. If and when the town’s thrift store reopens I’d take it there.
With no time to receive an order on online, I recalled there was a Macy’s in the nearby shopping center. Or maybe like so many other Macy’s stores it had closed. Its website said the Corte Madera store opens at 10AM. Maybe I’d find a sweater there but if not there was a Nordstrom store which for probably twice the price I could find a nice summer sweater.
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Macy’s Incorporated was founded in 1858 in New York and expanded over the decades by new store openings and acquisitions. By the middle of the Twentieth Century it owned over one thousand stores in 45 states and was an American icon revered in the same breath as Chevy, Burma Shave, and our national pastime, MLB. To go along with family, turkey and cranberry every Thanksgiving Day was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. National television. Millions of couch viewers, thousands in follow on the avenues of New York.
As the new century arrived Macy’s had suffered from emerging online competition, crippling debt service, staid products failing to attract and retain new demographic shoppers, and management turnover. Today it owns about 500 stores.
The Corte Madera shopping center consisted of 2500 acres with more than 60 shops, department stores, eateries, a cool Apple store and a Tesla showroom to visually add to the pleasure of the visit. The Macy’s store is located at one end on the center about six hundred yards from Nordstrom's at the opposite end. As the two largest stores each has a large parking lot.
I pulled into a space near the Macy store entrance. The two door openings required a hefty pull, unusual since my recollection was department store doors opened electronically as one entered and departed. Was that a result of Macy’s problems?
Inside I saw one or two shoppers at the cosmetics and fragrances area in conversation with an employee behind the counter. There were two floors of merchandise and the sign read Men’s on the Main Floor. Good that’s where I was. However it took me about five minute of wandering before I found the men’s department. I could find only one employee in Mens and she was standing on a step ladder stacking denims at the Calvin Klein section. I asked where I could find sweaters. At first she didn’t understand me but I prevailed by brushing my hands across my chest and arms adding a shiver motion. And saying sweater, sweater, sweater. Ah, her eyes lit up but her face said frown. “No, think we have have.”
I didn't like the idea of walking a half mile to Nordstrom’s so I decided to look at every men’s clothing module which included stops at Tommy Hilfiger’s, Calvin Klein, Docker’s and Lacoste. Not a sweater anywhere. Not a sales clerk either. Two, maybe three other shoppers passed by. As I was about to give up I saw one more clothier, POLO RALPH LAUREN. Finger’s crossed. There were shelves of short and long and short sleeve shirts. Not a sweater in sight until I noticed a floor level shelf, one near buried from sight in the Coates and Jackets area and lo and behold there were four cotton sweaters, two red, two black, three XL and one L, a black one. With no employee or shopper in the area I decided to try the L on. It worked. It fit. The quality seemed good.
The price on the tag read:
Now how to buy. I hadn’t seen a check in the men’s section so I wondered over to the women’s section and there was a woman behind a counter busily scanning a dozen or more clothing items. An Hispanic woman with three kids at the counter was watching intently. Finished, the clerk bagged the items and looked at the computer screen and said, “One hundred eighty-three dollars. The woman produced two one hundred dollar bills which the clerk place on a small screen device beside the screen.
The clerk, languid and expressionless, with hand held device scanned the price tag of my new sweater. The screen showed the price and six dollars for Californian State tax. Gotta be helping the state’s $74 billion budget surplus. While inserting my credit card, I said, trying to get a little life out of the clerk. “The shopper before me got a great deal. Lots of nice clothing for $183 dollars.” That drew an apathetic nod.
“No bag, please. Have a nice day. Not good for the environment.” Response: stone face.
* * *
I thought about the once majestic elegance and hustle bustle of customers at Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square in Manhattan. I could see the Thanksgiving Day Parade with its dozen floats with Looney Tunes characters , Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Barbie. I could hear exuberant sounds of the marching bands, one after another with the floats and balloons of all sizes and colors tin between. I could see row after row of cheering spectators, mommies and daddies with their little buckeroos frolicking and bopping with joy on both sides of the avenue as the parade marched north on Sixth Avenue.
I felt sorry for Macy’s. I felt bad for America. Another national icon biting the dust. In the jukebox of my mind I heard Bye, Bye, Miss American pie. I thought Baseball: once the American pastime. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? I could see pictures of the six consecutive wooden signs on the country roads to college, rhyming ad messages for Burma Shave. Train approaching / Whistle squealing / Stop / Avoid that run-down feeling / Burma-Shave.
I got in the car, new quality sweater in hand. Turned on Sirius radio to the Fifties Channel, the home of early rock and Doo Wop. Things were good back then but now were better. I’d pick up a pizza and a six pack of my favorite IPA, go home and pack and write this story.