Growing up I heard a good deal about Macy’s. My mother, born in 1903 in southern New Jersey, was the eldest daughter and one of eleven children of a Jewish immigrant farmer family from Belarus. She had done fairly well for herself, having attended Ohio State University until sometime in her junior year and had then gone to New York City to start a career. To this end, she soon found herself in what she called Macy’s Basement Training Program, and by the time she met and married my father in 1929, she was an assistant buyer for what she referred to in her best Scarsdale accent that mimicked her sister-in-law Jeannette’s, Ladies’ Foundation Gahments...
During World War II, Mother worked in a nearby Lord & Taylor’s Department Store as a sales clerk. I was too young to know or remember in what. All I know is that when she took me with her on one of her interminably long shopping pilgrimages, I acted out when she would be chatting for what seemed to me like forever with the sales clerks there until she had to relent and take me home. Finally, she stopped taking me with her altogether so, as she put it, “she could enjoy herself.” I exulted in my new-found freedom. Decades later in Chicago, when she had to lie about her age to get a job in the Saks on the Miracle Mile, she ended her career in retail by clerking in the Children’s Department. She was good at what she did, intelligent and personable, but when she found out that my father’s financial exigency was based on the expensive gifts he had been buying for a younger girl friend, she quit and came close to divorcing him.
I tell you all this because as an adult, I developed a taste for department-store shopping myself, especially at Macy’s, one of which we had here in Boulder, Colorado, a university town of 110,000 inhabitants. I still loved walking through the different departments and taking the escalators up and down. I frequented the sales, took with me the latest discount vouchers I had received in the mail, and always paid with my store credit card, primarily the Macy’s one, to get a few more percent off the price of the treasures I had found. I guess I really am my mother’s son! So, you can imagine how bummed I was when I learned that our local Macy’s, badly wounded by the pandemic, would be closing. In its last months, my wife and I or sometimes just I would visit the store in search of some greatly reduced bargain. I felt sad, however, at seeing merchandise more and more confined to smaller and smaller spaces. And then one day, it was all over: the doors were locked forever. Well, not quite, because the building, which had anchored our 29th Street Mall, would be taken apart and reassembled as a large three-story apartment house atop a ground floor and basement divided into retail outlets. True: there would again be shopping there. The spirit of its past glory would continue in some way. Still, it would not be Macy’s, a place that had provided me with a spiritual foundation gahment in my youth. To quote Baudelaire, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” Clearly, the one permanent thing in this life is change.