Lileks: Dayton's we still miss. Bloomie's? We shall see

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2012 - 12:46 AM
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Bloomingdale’s was one of the Mall of America’s original tenants but did not perform to the expectations of its parent company, Macy’s Inc.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Everyone has their own preferred route to the Mall of America; for some it's "the opposite direction, as fast as possible."

I go past, take the first exit on 77, turn around and sneak up from behind to park in a surface lot so I don't have to remember if I'm in the Maine area of the fourth floor of the north side of the west ramp.

I usually went through a big unpopulated space filled with dresses and perfume, and I could never figure out what it was. Turns out it was a store called Bloomingdale's!

And now it's going away.

You hate to see a big chunk of retail give up on us, but of all the anchors, that would be the one you'd pick. Nordstrom is the chic popular friend from out of town; Sears is for those who think "as long as I'm picking up a dress shirt for the funeral, I might as well get a hammer." Macy's is everyone's friend.

Bloomie's was the equivalent of the couple from New York who moved in down the block a few years ago, never really mixed with anyone and finally moved out for a job transfer. It was the store we waved to when walking the dog, and that was about it. Seemed nice enough.

The parent company said it will be closing the store because it's "underperforming." You wish they'd use another term, since real parents don't announce they're going to discontinue their third child because she is underperforming in school. Especially if the kid is making $25 million a year, which is what some estimate that the store was pulling in.

In the big world of department stores, though, that's hardly worth the bother. Why, closing is an act of mercy: All those employees are just standing around, waiting for more business, spending the day folding sweaters and waiting for a break so they can go to another store and look at sweaters so that clerk has something else to fold. (This is about 14 percent of all human activity at the mall.) They deserve the life of excitement that comes from suddenly getting pitched into the black maw of unemployment. Some may be offered jobs at other company stores, but you suspect that most of them are positions at the purely speculative branch opening on the Mars colony in 2016.

This is the story of retail in the past 20 years: department stores consolidating, folding, changing their names and making people cranky in the process. We've never forgiven the loss of Dayton's, the senseless rebranding to Marshall Field's. Oh, who needs that silly regional identity, forged over generations, woven into the very nature of growing up here? Please, replace it with the name of a Chicago store. You say we get Frango Mints, too? Isn't this our lucky day! When Dayton's changed its name, we reacted like a child in a movie where Dad remarries an evil, scheming woman: You're not my real department store, you're not, and I hate you!

We'd already been through this with Donaldson's, which turned into a Carson Pirie Scott for no reason anyone could discern -- and of course there was Powers, which merged with itself, formed a black hole and disappeared.

Every city has tales like this, but the power of these old names will evaporate as time, er, closes down the underperforming generations of people who remember them.

Most of the memories are formed early and can be summed up thusly: I remember going downtown with Mom to Cooty's Dry Goods Emporium to get new britches for Flag Day. Going downtown was an essential component of the experience, and the mall cannot compare.

To a kid the mall is just a place with lots of stores, but downtown is a busy world of adults engaged in the inscrutable pursuits of adulthood; to experience that world is to get a glimpse of the world beyond your block.

Sitting in a downtown ice cream parlor with grown-ups and eating from a glass cup with a long silver spoon is one thing. Sprawled in a chair at the mall poking at a wax cup of Ben & Jerry's is something less.

Some say that the upscale factor hurt Bloomingdale's, because Mall of America shoppers care not for high fashion. Makes it sound like the store will be replaced by a three-story outlet mall called NUTHIN' BUT COVERALLS or Lena's Smock Shed.

Perhaps there's another reason. In order to enter Bloomie's from the parking lot mentioned above, you have to approach from the south. So I guess not enough people from the south were coming.

Blame Iowa. Rubes.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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