Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Material World

Detail of the worn-out moccasins

It's a good thing for retailers that there are people like my daughter Audrey and my late mother, Jean, both shoppers par excellence, while I am the opposite. My mother's shopping forays on Central Avenue in East Orange during the 1940s were marked by her eye for quality and her quest for bargains. Audrey has the same traits and more, and I am the beneficiary without having to endure (for me) the ordeal of shopping.

The slippers she sent me one year were so nice that I would not even wear them for about a year, then gave in when I saw the identical pair on an obviously seasoned and fashionable traveler in the Newark airport. The slippers were luxuriously comfortable and would have made air travel tolerable instead of a trial. They certainly brightened up many a day for me, once I overcame my awe of the brand name.

As a young woman, my mother worked in Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia. The legacy of her job in retailing was that she honored the marketing calendar that opened with January White Sales (invented by John Wanamaker in 1878) and rolled on through the year to winter holiday spend-o-ramas that made or broke a retailer's annual success.

I am more interested in marking the year by solstices and equinoxes and have never been a good consumer of retail goods, but Columbus Day reminded me of one of those made-up shopping holidays. I checked online and found that even now, the Columbus Day coat sale is observed at Lord & Taylor, J.C. Penney and all points between.

One of the worst assignments I had as a reporter was to cover Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when all good consumers are supposed to start their holiday shopping. My mood was as black as my turtleneck as I tried to interview consumers on their purchasing plans for the season.

Now we also have Cyber Monday, when in 2011 sellers will be anxiously totting up sales of the Kindle Fire and the latest iPhone.

But also in 2011 retailers will have to recognize that hard times will be sidelining a lot of would-be shoppers. No matter what the marketing ploy, those who are unemployed or on fixed incomes will most likely be skipping holiday spending this year. Even those who still have jobs may be chary of spending money until they see what the future holds. The line used to be, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping," but before retailing there was another great American tradition called thrift: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Which concept will prevail as 2011 draws to a close?



  1. You cause me to chuckle so many times Bernice...and this one did it :
    My mood was as black as my turtleneck as I tried to interview consumers on their purchasing plans for the season.
    Thanks for the smile and laugh...love your recollections by the way..

  2. I loved Wannamakers. Truly my favorite dept store. Even as L&T and now as Macys. An amazing building and spectacular Christmas show!