BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE


When I was a little girl in what, God forbid, might be called the “olden days,” I had a great many relationships with stores and the people in them. I went grocery shopping with my mother and with my grandmother and sometimes with my great aunt where Piggley-Wiggley was a regular, and See’s candy a treat. The milk and produce stores came to us, and were sometimes good for maybe an apple or a bunch of grapes. I remember butcher shops because you could write your name with your toe in the sawdust on the floor.

Walter Knott first berry stand 1920
Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California 1920

We played store which was easy because all you needed was a board and something to balance it on like a couple of chairs, and a few cans from your mother’s pantry. I was caught in the act one day by my father coming home early to find me “selling” flowers off the front porch steps, flowers I had liberated from a neighbor’s garden. So I went out of the floral business.

escher2

Escher, maybe an idea of what early stores looked like in a crowded town.

escher

As time went on, stores moved up and became multi storied.

The business of making all these stores attractive became important, as did the business of enticing people into them. The stores with the expensive merchandise were the most fun, and I once even considered the impossible desire to actually live in one.

Think of it: elevators to take you upstairs, restaurants, departments catering to all your needs. Everything to make life pleasant and all under one roof.

When we moved to Alameda, we often took the ferry to San Francisco where the really big stores were; The City of Paris, I. Magnin, the stuff of dreams. My mother and grandmother and I would sweep into the glove department at the White House and begin the ritual of buying a pair of gloves. You didn’t just point to a pair and say “I’ll take that one.” The saleslady would put your elbow on a a little velvet pillow and place her elbow alongside yours, as though poised for an Indian wrestle. She would turn and flip open several of the hundreds of little drawers that lined the wall. She then placed a number of small packets of gloves on the counter and then began the effort to try them on your hand. This was not something to take lightly, as it might take several tries to get just the right glove. It was almost as much fun as hats!

Years later, taking my daughters to these same stores, I confessed my early urge to dwell in these marble halls.

When we moved to Seattle, I found my dream in the Frederick & Nelson store in downtown Seattle.

Frederick_&_Nelson_Store,_Seattle,_ca_1922_(5460635460)_-_borders_removed

Frederick & Nelson had their own dark green delivery vans, uniformed young women manning the elevators, a tearoom where my favorite lunch soon became a turkey sandwich on cranberry nutbread, introduced to me by my friend Katie Johnsen. There was a beauty shop, candy counters which sold Frango Mints, a melt in the mouth chocolate, and a monthly change of decor. Surely everything necessary to live “the Good Life”. All this without even mentioning Christmas. The window displays were spectacular, and the inside of the store fulfilled every child’s glowing Christmas fantasy.

Like so many of the fine old stores of the past, Frederick & Nelson has long gone out of business, succeeded by the Bon Marche, Macy’s and more. The fancy accoutrements have disappeared, supplanted by acres of clothing rounders and disinterested salespeople. Macy’s however, now sells Frango Mints which is a tiny touch with the past. Surely there is still something below the bottom line.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

18 thoughts on “BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE”

  1. That lingering of the past, a fatal attraction. We often talk with our friends as if still in kindergarten, all forgetting about our pace-makers, carbon knees and wired-up jaws. Of a kind consideration but mainly to ourselves. I remember my first suit from Reuben F Scarf. Two for the price of one! Two suits in one hit. I had arrived.
    All that now gone. Instead indifferent sales people fleeing at the sight of a customer. Many shoppers now bypass shopping and hone in onto food grazing.. Who can blame them?

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    1. Could it be that hindsight is better than foresight? Or are we getting old? Although that is true, the stores are NOT what they used to be. People are in too much of a hurry including those in the sales business. Many shoppers have discovered the internet, and though it has no personal service, it’s quick and easy and you avoid the crowds.

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  2. I tend toward very small stores, now. My grocery store is an independent with slightly higher prices and fewer choices, but it has everything a person could need, it’s sparkling clean, and the people are friendly. All of the checkers are high school kids after school’s out, and they call everyone sir and ma’am.

    Add a farmers’ market, a wonderful, independently owned butcher shop, a pair of local farms and that takes care of that. I rarely shop for anything else, but we do have an independent bookstore to browse, and a new, BIG grocery with a Parisian-trained pastry chef who spent some years in L.A. before coming here. I’ve tested her croissants, the macarons, the cannoli, and her pistolets, and I approve. No more pining after a French bakery.

    I bought gloves in the manner you described just once. I needed elbow length white ones for my senior prom. Oh, what an experience that was! Of course, until about 1960 everyone wore short gloves to church and etc., too.

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    1. I shop independent stores here in town when I can, but there are no small groceries, bakeries, etc. Nothing much to speak of. Your bakery sounds enticing.
      Those old stores had cachet though. Do you remember the old Gumps? I spent many an hour there just smelling the good smells of old wood etc. Maybe it was the sense of permanence and antiquity that drew me to them. Nothing much to attract today from the big department stores. The blast of the cosmetic counter as you first walk in, cute girls with a ton of their product on their faces urging a sale Everything so crowded with merchandise. Like a box of See’s, you never know what you’re looking for. Still I suppose there is a certain amount of excitement to join the herd.

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  3. No, Katy – nothing. Merchants don’t consider there to be a single thing below their bottom lines.
    Progress is wonderful.
    Not.

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  4. We didn’t value the service and expertise of these department stores enough to keep them in business when the advent of shopping malls and the dreaded Wal-mart came along. We can look back now and feel sad for what we’ve lost. There were two rival department stores in downtown Richmond, Miller and Rhoads and Thalhimers. Old-time Richmonders mourn the loss of those two grand dames so much that our local PBS did a documentary on them.

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    1. A charming small shop in town just closed its doors, as a result of a planned and deserved retirement. Nevertheless, to see a For Sale sign in the window is sad. The people are delightful, the art spectacular, and we won’t see it’s kind again in town.
      It’s sad to return to a town after an absence and find that the small nice shops have been replaced by chains. Plus the internet has given new shopping opportunities. Not the same.

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    1. I come from a long line of “ladies who shopped”! I went into Nordstrom in Seattle a few years ago after my daughter had sworn that she was not shopping anymore. As soon as we hit our favorite department, a salesgirl called her by name and told her her “latest purchase is in”! My grandmother would sail into a shop like a queen in San Francisco and someone would grab her and sell her a new hat. She could never leave without something in her bag,. She always felt bad if she didn’t buy something after all their trouble.

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  5. Although I remember butchers shops with the sawdust on the floor I didn’t have the joy of the glove department. Thank you so much for sharing these memories. One would hope there is still something below the bottom line — I just struggle to think what it might be.

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