Lamenting Loehmanns & Other Retail Woes

I dragged a friend out on a recent freezing day to check out the end of Loehmanns.  Prepared to see only hangers and shelves left, we were surprised to find quite a bit of merchandise and we each managed to  secure a few things at great prices. Loehmann's

We reminisced about the Loehmanns of our youths.  She loved the  “Back Room” that held the higher end, designer labels. I remember going with my mother and sisters; our store in CT was about a 45 -minute drive, for us it was an excursion.  We loved the communal dressing room and how complete strangers would offer advice about what was flattering and what wasn’t.

Over the years, we’d bought many outfits for school, work, and special occasions. All my mother’s “mother of the brides” dresses came from there, as did one of my sister’s wedding dress.  A family friend had found the dress in her suburban Philadelphia store and called my mother, described it, and had it shipped to the store near us. A few alterations and it was perfect!

1989: Women's attire from Loehmann's

1989: Women’s attire from Loehmann’s

A few days later, my daughter-in- law’s sister and I chatted about Loehmanns and its demise. For her family, the store was the destination for Shabbos clothes.  We were helping take care of the 4 & 2-year-old grands while their parents stayed in the hospital with the new baby boy.

The 90-year-old store, an icon in Brooklyn, announced the closing of its 93 stores in 11 states early this month after years of financial troubles.

And while Loehmanns memories abound, most concede that what we’re nostalgic for is the Old Loehmanns, the store that truly had great amazing fashions found nowhere else. The New Loehmanns, what emerged after its takeover in 1983, didn’t offer the unique experience, the one-of-a-kind bargains. It looked like too many other stores and many of us stopped shopping there.

I think about other retail stores that have closed, forcing me to readjust my sights and find new outlets. In my former NJ town, there was a 5 & 10 Cent Store; you could find everything. Felt for last minute school projects, shoelaces, a pot, anything you needed. My favorite yarn store closed; the owner could design a pattern from a magazine photograph.   And along with the loss of Loehmanns, my favorite local boutique where I’ve bought everything from jeans to black tie outfits is moving to South Jersey, about an hour away. The store was across the street from my dentist and provided the perfect post-dental retail therapy.  The owner optimistically hopes her clientele will make the trip.  unnamed-1

The loss of retail impacts the local community, and it’s sad to see the half-empty stores, selling at a loss. I admit to taking advantage of plenty of “closing” sales, seeing shoppers, like vultures on road kill, plow through racks and piles as if it were their last meal.  I try to shop local retail as much as I can, but realize my purchasing alone can’t save a store from shutting its doors.

What about you? Favorite Loehmanns story? Retail or Internet shopper?

And speaking of Loehmanns, my friend Miriam wrote a great post about what we “take away” from  beyond the last sale sweater.  Check it out:


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25 Responses to Lamenting Loehmanns & Other Retail Woes

  1. Nancy C-J says:

    Brought back a ton of great memories, Lisa. Thank you. The Loehmanns I remember was in the Bronx, though, on Fordham Road. Opened in 1930 it was still there when I left the Bronx in 1985.. Nothing ever really replaced it.


  2. OmaOrBubby says:

    Boy is my mother going to love this post. You cover it all. (Pun intended!). My mother is and was the most experienced shopper at loehmanns. She could eye a rack in a few minutes and know whether there was something or nothing for me or my sisters. Ahhh. What a memory.
    Now my mother has to settle for Costco (never mind that they don’t sell clothes there. Don’t mess with the details!) That’s her more recent passion. And even more recently (because she’s home taking care of my dad more these days) it’s good ol’ amazon. Oh well – shopping sure has changed.


  3. OmaOrBubby says:

    And thanks so much for the pingback and mention!! 🙂


  4. Oy mamala! I would pack up the kiddos and drive down the Taconic from my Berkshire wilderness to visit Ada in Dover NJ, but mostly for the trip to Loehmanns in Florham Park and my hair stylist in Summit! Memories 🙂


  5. gabi138 says:

    I think Loehmann’s was the first place where I undressed in front of complete strangers. At first I was terrified, then I realized what a variety of shapes and sizes people were, which was a valuable lesson.


  6. I would think that even when we take advantage of closing out sales we are at least helping to them to mitigate some of their losses, yes?


  7. Drjcwash says:

    Wow. I loved that store.
    I remember my mother lamenting the closure of our great stores in Birmingham. Most of the stores were owned by families who were known employers of people of color and frequented by all. Pizitz, Parisian and Blach’s were the stores we purchased all those school clothes ,Sunday church dresses and shoes. It was great shopping through college and medical school. They are no longer operating and what is left are just the chains like Macy’s, Belk and Dillards. They just don’t have the same feel. I remember hearing someone lament the closure of Bonwit Teller. Even now with JC Penney closing stores, I feel nostalgic. All my curtains, sheets and pillows were purchased from there when we lived in Chattanooga.


  8. Carol Dranove says:

    No, it was never the same since the takeover. Same with Filene’s Basement, this Bostonian’s Loehmann’s, which was nowhere near it’s flagship store in so many ways. The suburban branch stores don’t cut it. All were cookie cutter modern mini versions of their old early 1900’s buildings with all their nooks and crannies. Where a “back room” was carved out of existing space and not planned by an architect. As a buyer at Abraham and Straus, behind the scenes in the flagship Brooklyn store on Fulton St., I spent many days in the old building’s back room nooks and crannies. Retailing changed before the internet. Department stores were all starting to look the same and the bottom line profit was the goal with little room for creativity. The the internet came along with online buying. Gilt, Hautelook, RueLaLa and many others are this generation’s Fliene’s Basement, Daffy’s and Loehmann’s.


  9. Man my mother loved Loehmanns in Flahridah! I found the open dressing room a shock at first… so strange to a young high school and then college age girl… but I bought a few dresses there, 1-2 that I still have! So sad to see the end of that era, though I haven’t shopped there in 20 years. Thanks for sharing, Lisa!


  10. …and the Loehmanns in Florham Park has private dressing rooms that open with keys from the saleswoman. I liked that luxury, although admittedly there’s something un’Loehmans about it …
    Does this mean we are destined for the ugly word, “retail?” ‘Can’t go driving up to Woodbury Commons or Clinton Crossing too often.


  11. Things change………….sometimes that is sad.


  12. Esti says:

    Ooh, my first mention in your blog! =) For me, the communal dressing room was like something out of my worst nightmare! I refused to strip, and held out for one of the few coveted dressing rooms, no matter how long the wait. I still remember being a little girl and seeing one of the more feared teachers at school in the dressing room wearing, well, Not Much. That made quite an impression on me!


    • That’s hilarious! Imagine how she felt. It reminds me of the Bill Harley story about the teacher he sees outside of school, at the grocery store, and he’s so shocked and says, “you eat?”


  13. Proud Parent says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for helping me conjure up pleasant memories of shopping in Downtown Pittsburgh.


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