Thursday, June 7, 2018

Goodbye, Lord & Taylor

Not all the Lord & Taylor stores are closing, but the Fifth Avenue flagship at 38th and 39th Streets will be no more. This landmark building opened in 1914 and only last year underwent a $12 million renovation. It will soon house WeWork, a company that provides shared work spaces and services for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Lord & Taylor has many distinctions. It was the first New York City department store, founded in 1826 by Mr. Lord and his cousin Mr. Taylor. In 1945 Dorothy Shaver became the first woman president of a retail establishment. Under her leadership Lord and Taylor was the first department store to open a suburban branch, setting the style for suburban shopping to come (and possibly the death knell of downtown).

Lord & Taylor holds some special memories for me. It was the first New York department store I visited—in 1950 when I was 8. This was an extravagant family vacation—we usually went to Chippewa Lake—and my first visit to New York. I remember impatiently sitting on a couch in Outerwear while my mother and older sister picked out winter coats. My father became increasingly agitated as he figured out what this was going to cost him. I could hardly wait to get to FAO Schwartz where I would spend the $10 I'd saved up.

As I became aware of fashion, art and the business of fashion (in roughly that order) I appreciated Lord &Taylor's advertising. They used illustration paired with the sophisticated swash of their hand lettered logo. The ads definitely had brand recognition.

Fifteen years later I'd be living in New York and working at "Glamour" Magazine. Lord & Taylor was close to the magazine's offices and convenient for lunchtime browsing, but it was never my dream palace of choice. Their offerings were tasteful and reasonably priced, but not exciting like Bloomingdale's or cheap and chic like Ohrbach's.

My mother had joined me to live in New York. After retiring as a secretary she took a part-time job in Lord & Taylor's lingerie department. She loved it, and the customers loved her. This was the first time I saw my mother as a person in her own right and not entirely orbiting around me. I would meet her occasionally for lunch in L&T's Birdcage Restaurant (tiny little tables and delicate little food).

Then as now 34th Street was more the shopping hub, as is Fifth Avenue from 50th to 57th Streets. Lord & Taylor was kind of an orphan, though everyone loved their Christmas windows.

Where are the remaining Lord & Taylor's? I just looked up the store search to find my nearest is 933 miles away in Oakbrook, Illinois. That's a long way to go for Christmas.

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