Service of Losing Retail Friends: Century 21, Maison Kayser & Lord & Taylor

September 14th, 2020

Categories: Bakery, Bankruptcy, Discounts, Pandemic, Retail

Photo: ny.curbed.com

When I heard last week that we were losing to bankruptcy a favorite discount store of mine–Century21–my heart sank. I have been a customer since the 1980’s when the Gindi family owned one small store in Manhattan’s financial district. In the early days along with drastic discounts for top of the line products the personal service by caring sales staff was equal to what customers received from expensive boutiques.

Since then the east coast discounter, a destination of tourists from around the world, expanded to 13 locations and its flagship quadrupled [my estimate] in size. The shoe departments alone seemed almost as big as the original store. It was no longer like its early self but was still a great place to find shoes, luggage, basic undergarments for men and women, handbags, towels and sheets at reduced prices.

Lord & Taylor NYC Photo: ny.curbed.com

Many years ago a friend called me in a panic. It was two days before Christmas and she’d not bought a single gift for her brother and members of his big family and she was going to his house for the celebration. We met at Century 21 and within an hour–that’s all I had as I was preparing for our large family Christmas Eve gathering the next night–she was well on her way to checking off everyone on her list with great presents for each. She was smiling when we waved goodbye.

I’ve had a yen for Maison Kayser baguettes, sandwiches, and pastries for months and I’d make a point to frequently walk by the bakery/takeout nearest my apartment to see if it had reopened. No luck. The US branches have filed for bankruptcy. According to Bloomberg, the owner of Pain Quotidien and other food franchises–Aurify Brands–will buy it if nobody else offers a higher price. I hope whomever acquires it employs some of the gifted bakers. According to Claire Boston and Steven Church, “Maison Kayser has around 150 locations in 22 countries, with the U.S. bankruptcy action covering just the restaurants owned by Cosmoledo.”

Friends who mourn the liquidation of Century 21 also mention the loss of Lord & Taylor. We aren’t going to events requiring new clothes right now and many are not traveling so with the exception of buying for growing children most won’t feel the impact of these losses right away.

This is just the beginning. Where will the manufacturers sell their goods if there are no retailers? It’s scary to predict where the unraveling will end up.

Have you lost any of your favorite retail haunts? How have you replaced them? Any fond memories?

Maison Kayser’s goodies Photo: pinterest.com

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14 Responses to “Service of Losing Retail Friends: Century 21, Maison Kayser & Lord & Taylor”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Retail has always been challenging.

    While I’m aware of the impact of jobs lost when a big chain goes out, I also have a little bit of antipathy. Here’s why…

    When I was a kid, my parents had a children’s clothing store. They bought it mostly on credit from the previous owners (Peter Falk’s grandparents)and skimped on personal “luxuries” until their debt was fully paid. Just as they were finally starting to make some money, one of the first shopping centers in the east opened about 2 miles away — Cross County in Yonkers. They had Gimbel’s, John Wanamaker and some smaller chain stores.

    Many of my parents’ customers ran to the shopping center and also to the discount chains that were opening, like Korvette’s and S. Klein. They didn’t get the personalized service that my parents gave, and they had to pay extra for gift-wrapping. And they didn’t get home delivery, which my parents did. Or even credit, back before the days of credit cards. My
    parents used to extend credit to some customers.

    But people ran to the big stores because it was the new rage.

    Eventually my parents couldn’t compete and they closed the shop. I remember when they had their going-out-of-business sale, many former customers came back to pick the bones and get bargain prices. And, as was my parents’ style, they paid off all the suppliers who had extended them credit. They didn’t hide behind bankruptcy protection to slide out of paying debt.

    So… that’s why I don’t cry too much when a big store goes out. It’s personal.

  2. Sherrie Bellman Rott Said:

    Sherrie wrote on Facebook: A wonderful Lord and Taylor Christmas window graced the cover of my first book! So very sad to see so many of the windows in my book will be lost to history.

  3. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie wrote on Facebook: I worked at Lord and Taylor in HS!

  4. ASK Said:

    Too many stores chasing the same customers with often repetitive merchandise…L & T used to be great when they had a point of view…if I needed a dress I always went there first. When I was in high school, there was one L & T in our new shopping mall. After 4 years of college there were 3 or 4 within a 50-mile radius of each other.

    And of course, people shop differently today and wear different types of less “formal” clothing, unfortunately,

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David,

    I cried when I read your comment, a history you kindly shared with me before, about a legacy your parents left you, one of honesty and bravery. I didn’t know your Dad but I loved your dear Mom. She didn’t reflect an ounce of bitterness over this tragic development. I wish that there were more business people like you and your parents.

    I–but my husband more–have had my favorite small shops. I feel a sickening ache when I pass countless empty storefronts, a situation that has been happening for far too long in Manhattan–well before the Pandemic.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Sherrie,

    The windows won’t be lost to memory because of your books.

    The holiday tradition of visiting the store windows and the tree at Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue is impacted. Who knows what to expect for December 2020.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancie,

    So did I!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Can’t argue with you. Each store along Fifth Avenue, starting with Altman’s on 34th Street, was known for a look or specialty. [There was Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s too….off that beaten track.] I bought many house gifts at Altman’s. For my first marriage my mom and I looked at wedding dresses starting at Altman’s, ending up at Bendel’s. What a day!

  9. Judy Schuster Said:

    I bought the first wedding dress I tried on. I wanted simple and this was simple, only beading around the belt, yes there was a belt on the dress. But then I was an older bride, 23.5 years old, I can recall noting that the wedding dress shop personnel questioning whether this was my first marriage … I almost walked out, but was persuaded to stay by my mother since that was the only shop in town that sold wedding dresses!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Judy,

    That is SO FUNNY! I, too, wanted simple and the simplest, most elegant one was at the very last stop. I’d had it and suggested we call it a day and wrap up the research project but as always my mother had more energy than I had and she insisted we go to one more store, Henri Bendel. She was right! That’s where we found THE dress.

  11. Kathleen Said:

    How many retailers have disappeared over the years! Guess I’m really showing my age. But remember these fabulous ones, like Bonwit Teller that worked just around from House Beautiful on Madison Avenue; also liked Peck & Peck; remember Oppenheim Collins also at the Cross County; and remember Russeks, Best & Co., Orbach’s, Alexander’s, Plymouth and others, upscale or medium. Wow! Retail really has taken a beating. It’s ONLINE, folks.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Kathleen,

    In your list I remember Bonwit’s [and a special evening dress with harem skirt my mother bought me with bouquets of violets on white silk], Best & Co. where I had my hair cut, Plymouth where I bought most of my wardrobe at my first job after college, Alexander’s and Orbach’s. I don’t remember Oppenheim Collins or Russeks and while I existed when Peck & Peck did I don’t recall entering the store.

    I have always loved shopping. I so hope there will be stores to visit once the pandemic is under control.

    There are two places that cheer me if I’m in a grump or feeling sad or stressed: a visit to a great store or a beach with shore birds for a walk near the water after 4 pm.

  13. MarthaTakayama Said:

    I miss Edith Humphries, Bermar Teen Types, R. H. Stearns (Suede Strided Rite Pumps,which I never got)and tartan skirts,Best & Co., Peck & Peck, C.Crawford Hollidge,(especially handkerchiefs), Bonwit Teller,(and its Rive Gauche) Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, Fiandaca (Boston’s only couturier and where I had a Saturday job), Lord and Taylor(when it finally came to Boston) and its Bird Cage for lunch, and Boston’s legendary FILENE”S BASEMENT.

    One could run into or glance at people from all walks of life, all kinds of professions, all social classes and everywhere in the world in Filene’s Basement The bargains were dazzling and the extremes to which people might go to secure the purchase they had to have were amazing, ranging from keeping a salesman on a small honorarium or changing into a dress standing momentarily only in a slip! There were also occasional tugs of war.

    I miss the charm and adventure of small shops and the service one could find in them and in the Boston department stores as well where one was faithful to the same sales people. Shopping was a diversion, an excursion or a social event
    and much less dry and sterile than today. We don’t seem to have evolved as a society and I think we have lost a fair amount of charm.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I’m not familiar with some of these stores such as Edith Humphries, Bermar Teen Types or R.H Stearns but a store I loved in the day on Newberry Street in Boston was Papagalo. I loved going to the Bird Cage with my mother in Manhattan as well as Charleston Gardens at Altman’s. There was a soup bar on the 10th Floor of Lord & Taylor. My father loved their barley soup and the apple dessert with hard sauce and would often meet me there for lunch when I had my summer job at L&T my senior year summer.

    I also miss the charm of small shops. Goodness knows who will have the heart or stomach to invest in retail of any size after the Pandemic. Makes me so sad.

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