Many notable New York stores have toppled since I moved to New York in 1964. Though I left the city in 2003 I will still be a New Yorker, wherever I go. Besides, I'm married to a boy from Brooklyn.
Best & Co. was already gone in '64, as was Russek's, an upscale specialty store most remembered today for being owned by photographer Diane Arbus' parents. Over time Stern's closed, then Ohrbach's, Bonwit Teller (of all places), Gimbel's (Gimbel's!!), then B Altman (unthinkable). A few years respite and even discount paradise Daffy's was no longer.
I still take each store closing personally and have had to mourn two big ones in the past year. In June Lord & Taylor announced it was closing 10 of its remaining 50 stores. Among them is the iconic flagship store on Fifth Avenue. I wrote about that here:
Now comes news of Henri Bendel closing all its stores, which is sad but almost a relief. For the past six years Bendel's has given its name to a collection of accessories stores that bears little resemblance to Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue or the mecca that was Bendel's on 57th Street. I've written about that here:
I can't let Bdndel's go to the happy hunting ground without relaying one last story. I've been incredibly lucky in my career, most notably because I didn't get the jobs I was totally unqualified for. That was not the case with my very first job. You might think I would have learned a lesson, as I suffered there for many months before moving on to something I was better prepared for. Alas, I would still fall for what sounded exciting.
|Geraldine under the Bendel's awning|
Such was the case when a former editor at Glamour, a friend of Bendel's president Geraldine Stutz, suggested me for the position of Bendel's art director. Why I thought I could be the art director of one of the chicest retail outposts in Manhattan is anyone's guess. I had no retail experience, no training in visuals and still a rudimentary knowledge of publishing. I loved all those things, mind you, but I didn't yet know how to do them.
I was in my early 30s and somehow just thought I could do it—until I walked into her office. I don't remember being nervous before the interview. I should have been. I would have been today, for goodness sake. Geraldine had a large, bright office and sat across from me at a very large desk. I suddenly felt quite small. I showed her my portfolio of layouts and drawings. She asked a lot of questions and told me what the job entailed. I wanted to run screaming from the room shouting, "I'm not worthy! No, really, I'm not worthy." I didn't because it dawned on me that this very bright, very smart woman could see I wasn't qualified and was a class act. She was incredibly gracious and never let on that she knew what I knew.
I think I loved Bendel's even more after that.
|The "Street of Shops" in the 57th Street store|