Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy News About Our Gimbels Talk on Monday, December 12, 3 pm; Less Happy News About Our Holiday Shopping Bag That I Hinted At.

When I was a child, my mother and I would go to Manhattan to look at Christmas windows every year. The three highlights were Lord and Taylor, B. Altman, and Saks Fifth Avenue. I seem to remember that even when I was young, Macy's had stopped doing the special  Christmas windows, and though Bloomingdale's continued the tradition, they were just a bit out off our route.

And Gimbels? I just don't remember anything except that there was a branch of Zaro's Bread Basket inside, and they made good black and white cookies. I remember as an adult wandering through the stores on Greeley Square and the Upper East Side, a bit bemused. That 86th Street location was so strange, one small footprint of a floor after another, each looking summoning a future of cement boxes and generic layouts of big box discounters.

But then I moved to Milwaukee, and this division of Gimbels was beloved in a way New York was not. It had rituals like Gertie the Duck and Billie the Brownie (which admittedly, they acquired when they absorbed their rival Schusters), talk of eating at Tasty Town, and the tea room upstairs.

Our Gimbels closed soon after I arrived, and Milwaukee never quite took to Marshall Fields, outside of the Mayfair location. Little did they know that British American Tobacco had already outsourced some of Gimbels; operations to the Marshall Fields division--what they feared had already come to pass. And when that happened, the bargain spirit of Gimbels transferred to Kohls, where it is said that many key staffers moved, ready for its enormous growth spurt. But there is nothing romantic about visiting a Kohls in quite the way there is with an old downtown department store.

Now the only holiday traditions most of us have left that connect to department stores are those doorbuster sales. No more holiday windows. No more meals with Santa. No more department store parades--you know that the idea of the original parades was that Santa and the toys were marching to their show windws, right? No more kid-sized trains running through toyland either. This was never on my radar as a child, but a surprising number of cities had a store like this--L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis and John Wanamaker in Philadelphia are two that come to mind.

I'm sure you're not surprised that I really love the History Press's series that celebrates old department stores. These are the kinds of books that used to be published by the stores themselves, on their 50th, 75th, 100th, or 125th anniversary. I have several older books in my collection, on Frederick and Nelson, Rich's, and Marshall Field's--not just Give the Lady What She Wants but at a cookbook too. But then my friend Anne gave me Harzfeld's, a history of the notable Kansas City specialty shop. I soon added to my collection Wanamaker's: Meet Me at the Eagle and Under the Clock: The Story of Miller and Rhoads. The latter was a store in Richmond, Virginia.

Gimbels warrants not one, but two titles in the series. The first, Gimbels Has It! is about the entire chain. Michael J. Lisicky (also author of the Wanamaker's book), as you may have heard, is speaking at Boswell on Monday, December 12, at 3 pm. And sometime next year, Paul Geenen's history of Gimbels and Schusters in Milwaukee will be published. It turns out that Lisicky's history is heavy on the Milwaukee material too, being that Milwaukee had the best archive. But having read Gimbels Has It!, I know that there's lots more material available. I'm really looking forward to it.

And now for the sad news. At Boswell, we got the idea several months ago to play with one of my favorite shopping traditions and commission a paper handled holiday bag. Needless to say, I was very excited.  You do know I have an enormous collection of paper handled shopping bags, right? But then we ran into several problems. There was some miscommunication about size of our image on the bag, and though we were initially told it would work, we later learned that they could not print at the size we wanted. There was also some problem with how our artwork would transfer. After all the delays, I realized that we'd be lucky to get a bag in January. So we decided to postpone the project until next year.

In addition to the two Gimbels books, I have been talking about bringing in more titles in the History Press series for a shelf near our urban planning books. I figure that while not everyone is interested in these books in general the way I am, many folks shopping at Boswell are from somewhere else and might take to a book in this well-priced series. But mostly I just want to look at them all.

And yes, I know that the event with Lisicky is at a crazy time. He wasn't staying until the evening and though I know that so many folks will come out, I realized after speaking with him for five minutes that I would have a great time listening to him talk for an hour, even if I were the only attendee.

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