Years ago shopping was a fashionable (literally and figuratively) activity. Both men and women dressed for the occasion of a day out in the shops, especially one spent in those glamorous department stores in major cities. My childhood was marked by special afternoons of taking the subway to the dowager stores of NYC: A&S and Martins in Brooklyn; B. Altman's, Bergdorf Goodman's, Best & Co., Macy's in Manhattan and, that mecca of bargains, Alexander's in the Bronx. There were others as well, each with its own distinctive merchandise; each with a "look." The architecture reflected the style and price tags of the stock as did the little touches, such as fresh flowers "on the floor" and hand milled soaps in the rest rooms. Logo shopping bags and carriers were a status symbol long before branding became the IN thing. Bonwit Teller's floral decorated bag was so pretty that I kept it in the back of my closet for years! And of course there were tea rooms or luncheon parlous in the stores. After a long day of shopping, a cup of tea and tray of bites was definitely in order.
Few of these stores, filled with architectural detail treasures such as brass elevator doors that were heavily embossed; inlaid wood display cases and marble tiled floors, have survived. Bergdorf Goodman still characterizes grandeur and haute style with its lavish attention to preserving a store that is frosted with architectural details. My first job was at Bergdorf Goodman's and it is still a treat to visit this venerable department store. Down the street from Bergdorf's on Fifth Avenue, is Henri Bendel's. On a recent trip to Bendel's I was captivated by some of the interior decor designs that add a dimension to the ambiance unparallelled in most of today's architectural designs. In the tread-mill world of current shopping venues it is marvelous to find the stunning echoes of the past.
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