Having just celebrated a birthday, I started thinking about how people measure the passage of time. Some Great Plains tribes referred to certain periods by natural phenomena--the Year of the Falling Stars or the Year of the Spotted Sickness. When I lived in the District of Columbia, people thought in terms of the Carter administration or the first Reagan term. I mark the passage of time by the existence of department stores.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I. Magnin, Bullocks, the Broadway, Robinson's, the May Co., Neiman-Marcus, and Saks were bustling. There was even an Orbachs. Federated Department Stores owned Magnins and Bullocks, but ran them as separate enterprises, with Bullocks Wilshire as the flagship store. I favored it for china, linens and baby clothes. The Broadway and the May Co. stores featured mass market merchandise, but were good for staples, and Robinson's was somewhere slightly higher on the retail ladder. Most chains also had outlet stores, and Robinson's had an especially good furniture sale.
In Pasadena, the I. Magnin store was a tiny jewel box, and the halls by the ladies room were lined with portraits of the Rose Queens and their Courts. The Bullocks store on Lake boasted a tea room, a children's hair salon, and classic MCM style--when it opened in 1947, it was The Store of Tomorrow.
Seemingly overnight, these stores got bought and sold and closed and reopened as Robinson-May or Macy's. Bullocks Wilshire was looted in the Rodney King riots, and never recovered--I went to the close-out sales and saw Hancock Park matrons in tears. Bloomingdales moved into Southern California, Nordstom and Barneys New York opened nationally, and the old familiar names and stores vanished.
In some cases, the actual buildings were adapted for other uses--the May Co. on Wilshire is part of LACMA, Bullocks Wilshire's art deco masterpiece now houses the Southwestern School of Law (and you can buy a model here), the Pasadena BW is Macy's, and Target inhabits Robinson's old digs on Colorado Blvd. Macy's just shut their downtown store at Citicorp Plaza.
These stores were part of my past--where I ordered my wedding invitations (Neimans, employee discount), bought my son's layette (Robinsons), took my children for haircuts (Pasadena Bullocks), scored sale rack coups (Armani suit marked down 75% at Magnins), and returned fashion errors (all of the above). But even though I'd spent many hours wandering through their floors, I've ceased to mourn these former friends. Now, I just don't let myself get attached to any retailer--I shop online.
(Thanks to reader Kit Pollard, whose comment inspired this post.)