When times are tough or even when they are going well, my mom and I like to look back, wax poetic about the past. One of our favorite topics is Lord and Taylor, a department store that shuttered its doors a year ago. I’d be dressed in pink seersucker and my mom with her perfectly coiffed black hair, black Saks bag full of snacks and toys, and a cross body LV, her prized possession.
All was well when we escaped to the cafe and children’s department at Lord and Taylor, the world was simple and bright like the clothes on the rack and the love we share to this day.
Yes, and Dad. No you have not been forgotten. We will always have the mall in Hanover with the Polaroid photo stand, me in my green overalls, and you in gold wire-rim sepia tint glasses. Fanny Farmers candy and lollipops. Hands held traipsing around the mall to the bookstore and Thom McCan.
The past is static. It’s predictable, accountable, and joyful if we choose to look back in wonder and love.
Here is my ode to the department store, Lord and Taylor, and the nostalgic pedestal we put them on.
I used to come here when I was little girl
This was a beautiful store
I don’t know what happened
The words tripped off the mother’s lips as she rode the escalator down ahead of me surrounded by her three children. She said these wistful words as if spoken by a character drawn by Hemingway. These words. A lament. A sharing. A memory. A poem. A moment. A recollection of times gone by. Her children looked up at her, down, and around nonplussed by Lord and Taylor department store, their mother’s words snaking in one ear, pinballing around in their heads, and out the other side. The department store will shutter its doors after filing for bankruptcy after the COVID19 pandemic ravaged its ability to stay in the black. Shamelessly, we were all there for the discounted store items. Bright yellow signs with black text in 480 point font screaming “80% off,” “60% off,” “store closing everything must go.”
The end of an era.
How did we get here? Why do we care? Isn’t it a day late and a dollar short?
It’s fascinating to watch someone else get sucked into the vortex of old memories. An image, a smell, a song, a ride down an escalator overlooking dingy, darkened, shop-worn, display cases filled with Louis Vuitton bags that will never sell (and certainly, not at 80% off), letting us know their time is up.
Sense memory perhaps, or just a keen sense of place will do it.
Even against our best intentions we, humans, find a way to turn everything into sentiment or story. We are hardwired for narrative-driven emotion. And, let’s face it, we all have stories. Nostalgia is a currency. But I suppose that is tale as old as time. So why was it that that mother’s words painted themselves across the sky, floating up the escalator, a direct hit to my solar plexus? Then thwacking themselves against my sacrum where love and relationships live.
My story about Lord and Taylor, and the reason why my fellow escalator rider’s words hit me so hard is that my mom and I visited L and T after medical appointments, trying to shoehorn in some positivity after decidedly negative experiences. It worked. We shopped, we ate at the café, and we looked good doing it. Today, we reminisce fondly on these times in our lives, missing their simplicity. Everything today is so terribly complicated, nuanced, overwhelming. For a moment, we look back and ponder the positive past. Was it the Copley Square location that we went to after a visit to the hospital or the one at the South Shore Plaza? Did we buy those great, frilly socks, or that searsucker jumpsuit there? What kind of coffee did they serve at the café? Did it smell and taste as good as the coffee peddled at the Coffee Connection further down in the mall?
We look back and wonder and isn’t that better than any gift you could purchase from any store. Maybe nostalgia is not a currency, but the experiences that make up our lives are fodder for it.
Maybe this resonates so much now because we cannot go anywhere and have these experiences for fear we fall victim to a deadly pandemic.
Department stores were not meant to hold sentimental value, they were built for quite the opposite reason: convenience. Instead of going to the jeweler, the dressmaker, the beauty salon, the housewares store, and countless other stores, one could get all of those items conveniently in one place. There is nothing special about these department stores, never was supposed to be. As time marched on, people developed their own sentimental musings around these stores, Lord and Taylor, Marshall Fields, Jordan Marsh, Macy’s, and Filenes. Even the bargain-price variety has newfound sentiment with children of the 70s and 80s. The brand logos now don “vintage’ t-shirts, so we can all walk around and say “oh remember when?” Remember when we went to Caldor to buy that first bike, or your first Shoots and Ladders board game from Bradlees.
Will people think of Walmart and Target in the same way 20 or 30 years from now? I don’t know. Items today are either mass produced cheaply, or carefully crafted at dining room table and sold on Etsy. There is no in between, just more polarity, one more thing that our world needs less of. Department stores were a common ground, of sorts, for all.
We are humans. Our lives are spent creating moments. Sometimes the places we go for goods, or spend quality time together intersect and we have memories for a lifetime. Mom and I will always have the café, and the red-rugged floor of the children’s department at Lord and Taylor. What do you and your friends and family have?