Withering Glance: Poor old department stores

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 2:59 PM
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Neiman Marcus

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Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

 

CP: I know you love department stores, but honestly, how much did you ever buy at Neiman Marcus? Now they’ve vacated downtown Minneapolis after 21 years. You can’t bemoan this retail exodus unless you were always over there charging a new pair of Gucci sandals and some pashmina socks.

 

RN: Let’s start with the sweater currently on my back. And this tube of Kiehl’s lip balm. I’ll admit I wasn’t the store’s most prolific customer, but I always felt better just knowing it was there, you know what I mean?

 

CP: You’ll hear no argument from your pal who loved eyeballing the luxe shoes at Neiman’s on his lunch hour on a twice-a-week basis. I was known to the sales staff there as Looky Lou, the guy who rarely buys. And yet they were always friendly — with the exception of Mr. Stern Gaze Over His Half-Glasses. I also got a kick out of the women who wore tons of the products they sold at the makeup counter on two.

 

RN: What does it say about Minneapolis that Denver, Charlotte and Tampa can support a Neiman’s, but we can’t?

 

CP: Those cities are just so flashy.

 

RN: Let’s not forget Blooming­dale’s, which hightailed it out of the Mall of America last year after a similarly tepid 20-or-so-year run. I feel for downtown St. Paul, losing its last department store, although that Macy’s always felt like the retail equivalent of support hose — even when it was Dayton’s.

 

CP: The last time I set foot in that store was several years ago, when you and I wrote about the woeful state of retail in downtown St. Paul. We could not find a salesperson on the entire first floor. Good thing I had an extra Wellbutrin with me. Can they possibly find a new tenant for that tan mastodon of a building?

 

RN: Good luck. Some department stores are fine candidates for adaptive re-use. Look at the glorious former Meier & Frank in Portland, Ore. A standard-issue Macy’s, the Brand X of department stores, occupies the first few levels, but the upper floors are now a luxury hotel. Unfortunately, I can’t see a Ritz-Carlton going into that glorified shoebox on Cedar Street in St. Paul.

 

CP: Maybe a Fond-Du-Luth-style urban casino, complete with all-you-can-eat hot dogs? Otherwise, I always like a nice building implosion.

 

RN: It does remind me of the famous story of a maestro being asked how he would improve the acoustics at Northrop Auditorium, and he replied, “Dynamite.” Cue wrecking ball!

 

CP: That’s my little historic preservationist.

 

RN: As for Minneapolis, perhaps J.C. Penney can be coaxed into Gaviidae Common. After all, Neiman’s did replace the Penney’s that operated on that site for nearly 50 years. Although JCP is pretty much the definition of “troubled department store.” And, it’s Penney’s.

 

CP: As in, they definitely will not be carrying those new plaid desert boots by Ms. Prada.

 

RN: The good news, department store-wise? Nordstrom is coming to Ridgedale. The bad news? Not until fall 2015.

 

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib

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