My Turn: Bargain lovers lament Loehmann's store closings
It's a sad time for these Act 2 readers who are longtime fans of Loehmann's, a discount retailer that's going out of business, liquidating inventory at all 39 of its stores in 11 states, including the last two on Long Island, in New Hyde Park and Hewlett.
There was a time when going to the city for business or pleasure meant getting dressed up. New York City streets were the reflection of a European vibe, which meant one looked good on the outside because it mirrored one's upbringing, values and pride in oneself. Young people who went to work in the companies that were housed in impressive buildings in Manhattan suffered subway rides to get to their jobs. Even on the hottest days, one wore heels, stockings, girdles and, yes, even gloves.
We were the children of immigrants, first-generation business school graduates who were making our way in American companies. Degrees from places like Yale and Harvard were so out of our reach that we could only observe those who had them from a distance, with deep respect.
How did we manage, on $120-a-week salaries, to dress well? We had help; someone always knew someone in the garment district who worked for a manufacturer or a factory where you could buy stuff at discount. Then there was someone's uncle who managed a shoe factory and he would let us in at off hours to choose shoes at huge discount.
But best of all was Loehmann's. It meant a trip to Fordham Road in the Bronx, no mean feat for a girl who lived in Queens, but it was worth the trip. My friends and I would research the newest fashion trends at Lord & Taylor, Henri Bendel and Saks, then we would head to Loehmann's to buy the exact same clothes at a fraction of the cost.
It meant trying on things in front of other people in the open dressing room, but that was the price we paid to get our bargains. We mastered the art of trying on clothes without getting completely undressed and had friends who would stand at strategic spots so privacy was assured. Friends were a must, because the mothers of these friends always got phone calls from Loehmann's employees who would let them know when a new shipment came in. The best clothes went to the "insiders" who got their information early.
Loehmann's was our surrogate mom who helped us navigate our way into a society that needed us to type their letters, take their stenography and bring them coffee. We held our heads high and beamed when we could brag about working for the best ad agencies, banks, publishers and dress manufacturers of the day.
The garment district was intrinsic to our survival as our mothers worked in factories and we worked in the offices supporting a magnificent city.
Then came a tsunami of change: California-casual gripped business, technology changed the jobs of women, the garment district went to China and the city is no longer a place one gets dressed up for; flip flops, shorts, indeed, in the middle of winter.
Our message has changed to statements of rebellion against a fashion hierarchy. In a way, it makes sense because the industry presents the latest fashions heralded in Vogue and other magazines, but the clothes are too sheer, too much, too far out and not at all wearable on a subway or bus.
I know, I know, they're meant for the elite, but it has left a vacuum in fashion leadership for the common folk. We're on our own, so we're in jeans. Loehmann's is closing when we need it most.
IS THERE LIFE AFTER LOEHMANN'S?
What will life be without Loehmann's? Where will we go to circle the rounders, touch new pieces, see new arrivals and decide if this was our dream bargain? Hewlett Loehmann's was unique. It was our store with designer fashions available to everyone in the Five Towns. There will never be anyplace like it again.
My love affair with this store started in 1976. Back then, you could check your coat, get a ticket for the exquisite Back Room, take advantage of the fur events and, best of all, the Italian events.
Loehmann's changed with the times and became accommodating to a more casual style, but memories of the 1980s remain with us gals old enough to remember.
Today, I see the same customers greeting each other with hellos and big hugs. They ask how the kids are, then the hunting begins.
Loehmann's dressing room is like no other. It is a sisterhood of honesty. When someone tries on an item of clothing, she could turn to the gal next to her and ask, "What do you think?" "Should I look more?" "Is it too tight?" "Can you wear this to a wedding?"
I haven't made any important clothing decisions without the Loehmann's staff. Rosa and Lucy have been working the Hewlett store as long as I can remember. For 30 years, they went out of their way to assist customers with everything. There was never a time they didn't help find a suitable dress, give their much-valued opinion, tell me about a discount coupon.
It has been reported that the trucks will stop pulling up with new merchandise soon. The double doors on Broadway will close forever. The Loehmann's chain will be as finished as Filene's and Alexander's, but never forgotten.
Hewlett Loehmann's has been a welcome friend and true partner in helping the people of the Five Towns dress for success. There are so many of us who will miss it.
Loehmann's, your fans will never forget you.
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