GUEST EDITORIAL: WHY I’M NOT CRYING OVER THE ‘DEATH’ OF DEPARTMENT STORES
When I joined this business in 1972, national retail was Sears, JCPenney, and Ward’s with virtually nothing in the moderate to better field. Malls happened, and my stores were there, among mostly local merchants. Then the idea of publicly-traded national retailers became reality. And thus began a tsunami of retail that far outstripped demand (and the per capita square footage of most countries in the world). The malls could charge higher rents to nationals, and they pushed out the locals to enable that. This is not hyperbole; I lived that truth.
What happened? We were left with imitation stores, and far too many of them. National chains pushed down training and salaries and merchandising in exchange for profit. They treated vendors like enemies, with demands and chargebacks and so on. The insult to the intelligence must have made those vendors eager to cut ties and go direct to consumer.
As long as the bubble of the Baby Boom generation was in the spending years, they got away with it. But they destroyed the niche that we locals served far better. Better service, better selection, better everything. Do you think that Macy’s is an asset to the American shopping scene, to the economy, period? Consider what Macy’s WAS when you got into the business, or Hudson’s Bay, or any of the great department stores that are now gone. They offered incredible service, spectacular displays, solid careers; we all know what the truth is now.
So every time I read about the demise or reduction of department stores or any national chain poser, I celebrate; They’re all hypodermic needles into all of our local economies everywhere, siphoning away capital, and providing pathetic excuses for real retail. Hurry up and close, already! Every damned one of these viruses that destroyed my industry and turned it into a lowest-cost identical cookie-cutter experience should be gone, and I can’t wait.
It’s going to be difficult for vendors. It is going to put a lot of people out of jobs, and I don’t wish for their hardship. But I didn’t cause that. It was a “BS” predatory strategy that decimated local economies across the nation. That criminal assault is now coming home to roost, and I have zero sympathy. In fact, I am gleeful, pointing my finger of blame at the stupid model of national chains funded by stock markets and hedge funds. I wish the perpetrators would be the ones losing their shirts. Anyone who owns stock in any of them is going to lose, as they should.
Seriously: what would Stanley Marcus say about retail today? Mass-produced as it’s become, it’s a shadow of what it’s supposed to be if you ask people who know the difference. So I suggest that you don’t consider yesterday’s article in The New York Times to be depressing. It’s actually quite the opposite. The wretched excess of ten times (or more) the supply for our demand is being erased. Our industry will be smaller, and healthier, and better. More authentic. More personal. A true return to real and meaningful is now not just possible but likely.
But let’s go one step farther. Start exhorting the vendors to stop going direct. Start telling them to finance collaborations at retail on smaller scales, helping those in the void that is being created to become smaller but more profitable, with brand standards they can be proud of, while helping smaller independent stores across the country make money as well.
Be excited. Share that excitement. Yes, I know it’s premature but I don’t care. I can sense the possibility, and that feels like hope. Right now, I can use something to call aspiration.
Editor’s note: Many powerful expletives have been deleted. Views of the writer don’t necessarily reflect those of MR.
Peter Rose has two retail stores in Wyandotte Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 Replies to “GUEST EDITORIAL: WHY I’M NOT CRYING OVER THE ‘DEATH’ OF DEPARTMENT STORES”
I started inn1964. I could not agree more heartily!! Where is innovation and creativity? Where Are the differentiations! Who is special? If it all looks the same, and it does, is it any wonder that buying online is so easy? Everybody knows what they’re getting, they just get to pick what label they put in it. How can we expect price not to be the central issue, when merchandise is not?! Maybe in the next design cycle, we will find new ideas, new heroes, a new reasons to go to brick and mortar?!
Since 1972 our business has grown. From inexpensive to moderate priced goods.
Then in about 1977 a group of good customers said if I would step it up they be loyal only to us. So I did. It was a very exciting time although buying these designers brands was made difficult by other retailers who didn’t want us as competition.
We made it through and have become a real force in the branded fashion business.
Every day was fun. Now we live through Bull Shit. We’re doing fine and know how to play the game.
I won’t miss big store that buy to discount this screwing up the landscape for us legitimate retailers. I want to go back to fun,great service, personal relationships, and offering fair value at all times. Let the big guys go. I’m sticking around for the FUN 👍👍
Hi Carl, just a note on your reply to Peter Rose; I believe everyone is getting anxious to see what happens next and for each of us to rethink how to proceed in this business. This time out has certainly given us all some good food for thought. You mention innovation and creativity;
I am a small designer/vendor, but believe me there are many more like me out there but not many get attentions deserved.
We are passed by or overlooked without a glance. We’re working hard and investing time and our own dime to bring some of the WOW factor back that is so desperately needed out there. Presenting at the shows hoping buyers will slow up a bit, and stop, take a look… our hearts are in there! Maybe some lines are not to your liking – but maybe it is! Wishing retailers do take the time to explore and discover all that is here!
More important, stay safe and well in this time of chaos.
Our stores will be fine as long as the vendors help them thur this big adjustment and in
Turn the retailers the retailers will in turn help
The vendors and we all have to rethink our business model , we will
Make it work !!!! Stay Safe My Frienfs
Maybe this was the wake up call that was needed to shake the entire industry into correcting itself at a quicker pace. Differentiating product, innovative, inspirational presentations, great service from professional sales associates, much fewer stores, top notch execution of online business. ……
All of that and more has to be the new focus for every store, Department and Specialty that survives. But to wish the demise of an industry segment that once believed in, and can again, many of the attributes listed above, and supports thousands of people in wholesale and retail jobs is mean spirited and naive. Department Stores will survive….. What they will look like is the question.
Hi Peter – OMG how I agree with you……I remember all the stores that once existed in NYC from 42nd St down to 34th st Best & Co., Arnold Constable, Woolworth’s/Kresge, Lord & Taylor, B. Altman….Ohrbach’s, Franklin Simon, Macy’s (of course) EJ Korvette, Gimbel’s (there was an A&S next to Teepee Town on 42nd St.)…I remember these as my eye-doctor was on Madison Ave & 35th St. and when I was in my teens, I got contact lenses….it took 2 months for me to get used to them / proper fit…….and my mother would bring me to him from The Bronx…..we would go in to all these stores as I was extending the wear of my contacts under my doctor’s supervision…….There were the other stores as well uptown and downtown. If a consumer was looking for an item…….”if you shopped these stores – you would find it – at the price you wanted to pay for the item”…….every store had select merchandise at quality and price points to cater to the various consumer’s taste and spending ability. When I got in to the business in the late 70’s it was still very similar (omg the shoe stores that lined 34th St) and I was (still am) a salesperson that sold just about every store
throughout the US…..Allied Dept Stores/Mercantile/Federated Dept Stores/AMC/May Co., Mervyn’s / Miller’s Outpost,
etc……”men’s furnishings”….) before that I worked for a company that made little boy’s suits I sold to Robert Hall, WT
Grant, Sears/JCP/Monkey Ward……) I have been stating to friends of mine in the business and out, that for the last
20 years, (more-so the last 5- 10 yrs at the high end/luxury market)……everything looks the same no matter where you
shop……be it a Macy’s or L&T or a Gap store and then the others…..what is referred to in the business as “fast fashion”
Even at the high end luxury market, especially the accessory market, the shoes/handbags etc….all look the same (this to include many of the European lines as well)……Barney’s was known for those “special designers” and with every consumer being brainwashed by ads / movie stars / etc…in what to wear – as they sponsor all clothes and make up
lines as well……and let’s add to the realization that “no one dresses any longer” no dress code….women go to work
in jeans and yoga pants and flip flops in the summer; I must say that the men walking any street in any town, dress
far better than most of the women……..(and for 10 years or longer for my personal shopping purposes, I’ve shopped
consignment/Thrift Stores where I find magnificent merchandise for whatever the price and I don’t look like everyone else walking down the street of “Anytown” USA…..
I could go on and on….
So, where do we go from here? Time will tell……….
I LOVE THIS ARTICLE.
Being in this industry since 1987, I have encountered the same views. I have discussed these issues, with my colleagues in the industry, for many years now. Sadly, most have left it due to the demise of creativity.
I have worked for most of those big box cookie cutter stores and †hey never try to deviate from the model.
The air of freshness has died to an odor of rotting complacency.
Thank You Peter.
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