Sunday, September 4, 2011

Macy's: The Good

Do you have a boutique or department store upon with you primarily depend?  Is there a "go-to" store where you know you can find what you're looking for and where you can count on helpful sales people and charming displays?  I think it's safe to say that most women - and probably even most men - have one "favorite" spot for shopping, one place they "know" they can pop in and out of and leave with the item(s) for which they came.

For me, for years, that place has been Macy's.  I don't know if that makes me a metropolitan New York type or a suburban grandmom, but for almost my entire adult life, I have depended upon Macy's to make me look great for weddings (including my own), bridal showers (including my own, again), graduations, holidays, new jobs, interviews, baby showers (none of my own, thank you!) and pretty much any other life event that "required" a new dress, shoes, purse, and/or accessories.

There are many reasons I've pledged my devotion to this department store above all others.  One reason is that in truth, I hate department stores.  For some reason, Macy's has always felt more manageable to me - possibly more like a collection of boutiques that all happen to be under one roof without much dividing them.  I've spent considerable time (and of course, money) in a few Macy's, but since I've been in the city and especially, since I've been without a car, I've gotten used to visiting the Center City Macy's.

Here are some other "favorite things" of my past decade of experiences with Macy's:

  • in the most stunning display of old-fashioned customer care, when the transaction is complete - merchandise is paid for and carefully wrapped before placed into its bag - the salesperson does not hand it across the counter.  S/He walks around the counter to hand it to you personally, so to speak.  To me, this is the equivalent of opening doors and saying "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome."
  • The receipt has a place for the salesperson to write his/her name and they explain to you as they hand you the receipt that they would really appreciate if you would take the time to go to Macy's website and tell the store about your experience with them.  Good or bad.  That kind of transparency and accountability is missing from too many places today.
  • The men in the shoe department wear suits - full suits with a jacket and shiny shoes - and speak to you quietly and discreetly and are ever so eager to find you the shoes of your dreams.
  • A well-dressed woman with her hair in a French Twist, floating throughout the housewares effortlessly in high heels not only knew what I meant when I asked about a pastry blender, she knew exactly where to find them and helped me to decide between a wiry little fella and a sturdier (but deadly looking) Martha Stewart brand, chatting pleasantly with me all the while about how refreshing it was to know that "young people" (like myself) still baked from scratch.
Now, let me give you some background (and beautiful pictures) about the Macy's Center City Philadelphia store, specifically.

It resides in the historic Wanamaker building, which was a Pennsylvania Railroad station until John Wanamaker purchased it in 1876 and made it into the first department store in Philadelphia.  It has persisted in one form or another as a department store since that time, though the building changed hands more than a few times.  In the time I've been alive, it was Wanamaker's, the home of many childhood memories (more in a minute), then Strawbridge & Clothier for a short time.  My adult attendance began when Lord & Taylor took over and in 2006, it became the Macy's to whom I have faithfully given my money since.

Macy's CC Philadelphia, all decked out for the Flower Show

It may seem foolish, but one of the things that has kept me coming back all these years is tradition.  When I was a child in the far-flung suburbs of Philadelphia, my little family of four would get on the train one magical day each December and take the hour-long ride into Philadelphia.  Once we were there, my father would expertly (and at times dangerously) lead us through the underground bits of the train station so we would pop up on the side walk just a couple of perilous blocks from the store.  Hey, the city's a scary place when you're 4' tall and weigh well under 100lbs.  In any case, once we were safely inside the store, it was an amazing place - brightly lit and sparkling with elegant Christmas decorations (it was still ok to say Merry Christmas back then), lux crimson carpeting down the length of creamy marble floors.  There were grand, curving staircases (now closed to the public) and, best of all, a monorail that circled one floor's ceiling (giving all the good children a great view of the toy section and giving parents everywhere a heart attack as they tried to surreptitiously purchase presents for those very children).  That monorail is now in a museum...

Anyway, after all the oohing, aahing, and ogling from the monorail (which my sister and I rode over and over and over until our parents told us it was time to eat or leave or see the lights), we would gather in the main lobby, which opens up to a total height of 6 stories, and watch the annual Christmas Lights Show with all the other families.

The light show is narrated by the one and only Julie Andrews and tells all the classic Christmas tales: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Nutcracker.  Meanwhile, on a massive display against the East wall of the building, figures light up and "move" for her stories.  There is a three-story-tall Christmas tree that lights up and changes colors, and when I was a child, there was also a display of fountains.  They spewed their steams of water at varied heights and with a rhythm that matched whatever was going on, and there were floodlights set up behind them so that the water appeared to be colored as well.  It was really an incredible thing for young eyes to behold.

Truth be told?  It's a wondrous thing for all eyes to behold.  That's why every December, my father and I meet up on his lunch break (he works about 7 blocks east of Macy's) and head over to see the light show together, even in our advanced ages :)

my view from the main floor of the show just starting
The other neat thing about the light show is that the organ accompaniment is live and played on the largest operational organ in the world.  That's right, Europe's got nothing on Center City Macy's.

That is the front of the organ - the only part, beside the console, which is actually visible.  It takes up the second and third stories of the east wall.  The 28,543 pipes are hidden within the other three walls, although they are mainly in the south wall, which is opposite the console.  The organ itself was built in 1904, coincidentally the same year as my piano.  The organ, however, was built for the St. Louis World's Fair and then laid in storage, essentially, until John Wanamaker purchased it for his mega-store in 1909.  Since 1909, the organ has been played primarily by only 4 organists.  The current organist has been playing 2 concerts a day, plus the hourly Christmas light shows that go on for the entire month of December, since 1989.  The second organist, Mary Vogt, played the organ for nearly 50 years (1917-1966).

The history of the organ is truly astonishing - I urge you to read the entire article (it's not that long) in Wikipedia.  It has some incredible stats on the organ.  It is just a magnificent instrument.

So, you see, I have a long-enduring and great love for not only Macy's but also the space it inhabits.  That is enough for now.  This is, however, only part one of a two-part series, so please check back tomorrow for the second post.

1 comment:

  1. I also love Macy's--free personal shoppers who are AWESOME and professional!