New York: A Shopping Spree
By Theadora Brack
Start spreading the news! Grab your glad rags and shopping bags. This week, we’re trekking to New York, New York for some springtime faire du lèche-vitrine.
Whilst day tripping, time is precious. However, it’s possible to visit most of my favorite centuries-old department stores in one day. I’ll also throw in a few cinematic tidbits. I’ve been walking Fifth Avenue since the age of eight. I’m still cuckoo for it.
Here’s how Anaïs Nin described New York City to Henry Miller: “I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. The newness. The vitality. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle at the highest power!”
All aboard? Let’s glow.
Miracle on 34th Street
We’ll kick-off our jaunt outside Macy’s at Herald Square. Commandeer a few chairs, while I trap the still almighty hot-to-the-touch salted pretzels.
After we’ve admired the vitrines and massive pots of tulips, we’ll gaze up at the nearby Empire State Building, the closest thing to heaven in this city. It’s still true. However, before crossing, do look both ways or else you, too, will have a star-crossed Affair to Remember! Besides, Cary Grant left the building years ago.
Heads-up: As we stroll, study how the vitrines mesh with the reflections of the surrounding cityscape. Providing seamless backgrounds, the trees and skyscrapers play nicely with the mannequins.
1. Macy’s 151 West 34th Street (at Broadway)
Rowland Hussey Macy’s “World’s Largest Store” has been shimmering at Herald Square since 1902. Curious about the store’s “star” logo? It’s a nod to the tattoo that Macy got when he worked as a teen on a Nantucket whaling ship in the 1830s. Perhaps R.H. had Moby Dick in mind when he created his first whale of a sale?
Interested in some time travel? If so, don’t miss the original Otis L-type escalators, located smack dab in the middle of the revamped fragrance hub. The escalators with the wooden treads run between the 8th and 9th floors. Going down? Hold on to the railing because it’s a bumpy ride but worth every click-clack and jiggle.
Film buffs: Here, outside Macy’s, is where the Thanksgiving Parade in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) was shot. Reel it back! In the film, you’ll catch actual footage of that year’s parade in action. Macy’s has been putting on the Thanksgiving pageant glitz since 1924. Now, let’s form our own conga line, and hit the hill!
2. Lord & Taylor 424 5th Ave (at 38th Street)
Each time I spy the mile-high stacks of silky-smooth shirts as I make my way to the Lord & Taylor’s elevators, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby pops to mind: “They’re such beautiful shirts,” Daisy sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts.’” Pass the hankies.
That’s what they said. In 1925, Lord & Taylor commissioned an artist to create a miniature Saint Patrick’s Cathedral out of starched handkerchiefs. Talk about pressed for success! On the first day of the launch, the store sold thousands of hankies at 25 cents a pop. How’s that for pulling out all the props?
Don’t cry for me, Lord & Taylor. Your vitrines are still knockouts.
3. Saks Fifth Avenue 611 5th Avenue (at 49th Street)
Now, let’s hobnob it up to Saks, my flappers. Grab my hand as I set the scene with a little George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” or perhaps “It had to be you” by Isham Jones and his orchestra. The year of the grand opening was 1924. At the crack of dawn, hundreds of sight seekers appeared, including boxer Jack Dempsey.
“Rush of shoppers opens Saks Store! Crowds so large even stenographers are pressed into service as Saleswomen. First package to President Coolidge! False report that Prince of Wales is there causes stampede of women to men’s department!” Such were the zippy headlines in that day’s New York Times.
4. Tiffany & Co. 727 5th Avenue (at 57th Street)
Golly, gee—glam, Lula Mae. Get ready for your close-up because we’re approaching another cinematic backdrop, perfect for your social media portraits.
Here is where Holly Golightly not only bid farewell to the “mean reds,” but also lingered over sticky buns and window-shopping. Fanatics of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s book (and the flick based on it) still pay homage, so you might have to wait in line for the picture-perfect shot.
5. Bergdorf Goodman 54 5th Avenue (at 58th Street)
Who hasn’t passed the Bergdorf vitrines without humming the “That Girl” theme song? “Sable. Popcorn. White wine. That Girl!” Your secret is safe with me.
Ahead of the curve: Herman Bergdorf and Edwin Goodman’s flagship moved on up to 54th Street in 1928. Overlooking Central Park and the Grand Army Plaza, don’t miss the Callery pear trees. Also, keep your eyes peeled also for the Plaza Hotel. Located next to Bergdorf Goodman, The Way We Were is just one of the many movies to feature the photogenic hotel.
Just thinking of the film gets me all emotional. I am my own girl, Hubbell. It’s true. After a much-needed crying jag (and another pretzel break) at the “Abundance” fountain, let’s now hotfoot it to Barneys. Rebounding just got easier.
6. Barneys New York 660 Madison Avenue (at 61st Street)
Come hither. After Haberdasher Barney Pressman pawned off his wife’s engagement ring for $500 (with her consent I should hasten to add!) and with forty discounted suits to sell, he opened Barneys during the most deafening roar of the roaring twenties.
“No Bunk, No Junk, No Imitations!” was Mr. Pressman’s slogan. A cross between P.T. Barnum and Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., Barney hired barrel-clad gals to give away matchbooks stamped with the store’s logo and address. Talk about a storewide campaign with legs!
So keep on strolling! As Millie, my friend Paul’s mom, says, “You only live once in awhile!”