Today’s Boston Globe reports what was possibly an inevitable story: that the 99-year-old landmark Filene’s Basement store in Downtown Boston will shut for 1 to 2 years while the building is redeveloped. Unlike most of the tamer, modern Filene’s Basement stores that opened as part of the chain’s expansion, the original downtown Boston store is a true “basement,” with few adornments. Clothes are heaped into bins, there is no attempt to “merchandise” the space, and markdowns are taken automatically depending on how long an item has been in the store. The original Filene’s Basement is also the home of the famous “Running of the Brides,” an annual bridal gown markdown sale that frequently attracts national attention. Filene’s Basement is one of Boston’s major tourist destinations, and at this point may be its top retail-related tourist destination.
Unfortunately, the loss of Filene’s, its namesake chain upstairs (the two long ago split apart, though they maintained some synergy here) is forcing some changes. After the Federated/May merger, the Filene’s flagship store closed its doors because it was smaller and more outdated than the Macy’s flagship across the street (which was itself a Jordan Marsh store until 1996). Vornado Realty Trust purchased the vacant Filene’s building with the intention of redeveloping the entire block and replacing the store with a 38-story tower while mercifully maintaining the historic facade of the building.
Unsurprisingly, it’s going to prove much too difficult to keep the Filene’s Basement store open during construction, and while the current space–which is a dark, claustrophobic room with low-slung ceilings–isn’t normally the type of thing that inspires much nostalgia, it almost certainly will this time.
It will be interesting to see how this impacts the already-troubled Downtown Crossing shopping district, which also recently lost both Barnes & Noble and HMV, and suffered from the loss of the enclosed Lafayette Place shopping mall in the late 1990s. Most of the downtown retail activity in Boston now occurs just to the north, at the tourist-oriented Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall complex, or a mile to the west in the increasingly-successful Back Bay retail district. Many are skeptical the store will ever reopen, given the shiny, high-end prototype store that the chain opened there just months ago, between Newbury and Boylston Streets.