Boston Globe Editorial on the Death of the Department Store

Filene's store in Boston's Downtown CrossingI highly recommend checking out this editorial in today’s Boston Globe, written by Jan Whittaker (the author of Service & Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class). It makes for very interesting reading on the week that we’re saying goodbye for good to many of our most beloved regional department store nameplates. Here’s a snippet:

“The stores’ attractions were free and open to all. Of course department stores are businesses that must focus intently on the bottom line, but they built their fortunes on the notion that as their customers prospered and developed more artistically discriminating tastes, they would buy better merchandise and profits would rise accordingly.

By the 1960s, a large US middle class took it for granted that local department stores were reliable links to the mores, manners, and material accoutrements of mainstream American life. But, despite success as social arbiters, the big stores’ high cost of distribution — due in part to special events and lavish services — undermined profits. In city after city they closed or were consolidated in buyouts.

The department store represented a historic confluence of merchandising creativity and social aspirations that may be impossible to replace.”

2 Responses to “Boston Globe Editorial on the Death of the Department Store”

  1. I’m having a hard time believing that the traditional role of the department store should go by the wayside because offering bland, undifferentiated clothes-laden emporiums of ‘formerly cool’ like Macy’s and others are passing off as department stors are somehow more profitable.

    Quite frankly, the American middle class, the backbone of the department store industry’s market, still needs the guidance of the old stores. Without the elevation of taste that these stores offfered, we’ve drifted into a logo-laden sloppiness that’s only partially mitigated by the advent of ‘lifestyle merchandising,’ which in itself has created another sense of blandness. I mean, how many contrived faux-Mayberry strip malls with Williams-Sonoma, Talbots and Chico’s does America have to bear before this, too, becomes uninviting?

    We need more merchant princes. People who are guided by something other than a balance sheet and a hefty severence package after they cost-cut the creativity and individuality out of every successful store. If the industry can find people who care about creating a real sense of community and public service again, this could be the lead to the revival of the types of stores people are passionate about like they used to be.

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  2. This article just makes me think of the good old days (even though I wasnt alive for them but I have heard many tales) of shopping in huge departments in ALL cities not just New York City or Boston or Chicago but in Hartford, New Haven, Providence, etc.

    For example along Main Street in downtown Hartford was G. Fox & Company (now a community college, office space and retail space) which was one of the largest department stores in the nation and the largest one in New England. Next to that was Brown Thompson’s (now a hotel), next to that was the Sage Allen Department Store (now townhouses) and across back across from G Fox was Korvettes (condos coming soon). Everyone would travel to downtown Hartford for all their shopping needs. These department stores were the life and blood of Hartford for many years and created thousands of memories for people.

    Now Hartford has shifted away from retail to the business sector (insurance industry) and area malls and lifestyle centers have taken the shopping needs

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