NO MORE STORE – THE END OF BARNEYS
I know, I know, Kurds are being slaughtered. California is burning. Jakarta is sinking. They can’t breathe in Delhi because of the pollution. We still have a fascist in the White House, and homelessness everywhere is at an all-time high.
At the same time, New Yorkers are bemoaning the end of what many might say was a department store for the one percent.
A lot has closed in New York over the past four years. From Rizzoli to Bendel’s to Lord and Taylor, which was turned into a Wee Work, which turns out isn’t working too well, endless stores and New York institutions have evaporated.
But Barneys? Barneys! Barneys was a special store. Not majestic like Bergdorf’s or the old B. Altman. It was hip and cool. Not hip and cool the way Bendel’s was in the 70’s and 80’s. Like Barney’s was in the 80’s, 90’s aughts and on. It was unique. And those of us who loved it, loved it fiercely.
It started downtown in 1923 as a store for men to buy suits. Over the decades it morphed into the more modern and edgy New York department store. And then like mushrooms, Barneys began sprouting up in all the major cities.
Maybe it’s not as hip and edgy as it once was. But things have changed, and fashion has changed. There was a time when sneakers were not considered fashion. And there was a time when dropping limited editions of clothing designed to match your skateboard was not what got people worked up and lined up.
There was a time when a fun lunch and trot around the purse department, and maybe grabbing a blouse you didn’t need but realized you suddenly could not live without was enough for people and the bottom line. There was a time when two hours in the shoe department was a splendid way to spend part of a rainy afternoon.
There was a time, pre-Instagram and pre “influencer” when Simon Doonan’s whimsical, tongue in cheek Barneys windows were all the influence you needed. There was a time when Barneys was a soothing, fun, place to hang. And I am old enough to feel that it still is.
Barneys has been on its last legs financially for some time. It has declared bankruptcy once. The final nail in its coffin was when hedge fund art collector, (redundant I know) Richard Perry took it over. And from there it’s been a straight ride to the bottom.
There are articles and blogs saying Barneys deserved to go under, that it should shutter its doors and toss out those iconic black and white shopping bags. Some have said it isn’t Collette or Dover Street Market. No, of course not, it was a 270,000 square foot department store, that sold everything from lunch to bras to ball gowns.
It was its own thing. And it could have been saved – I believe that. I have believed that every day for the last month as I Google its temperature.
It didn’t help that one more manically greedy real estate company wanted more money, so in a difficult time for retail, when all the stores around it were folding, they doubled Barneys’ rent. It probably didn’t help that Richard Perry was not an expert in department store management. Of course, it also didn’t help that the times have changed.
BUT, I do feel with the right TLC and owners Barneys could have survived.
I like to think that. Perhaps with the same misguided optimism people feel that one more trial drug will be their road back to health.
I don’t think it deserved to end up as scrap. I also don’t believe that people should wish a store closed. Do two thousand people deserve to lose their jobs?
There have been promises from the company ABG (who bought it for what a condo in one of these giant towers cost) to keep it open. They would make it a cool space with
But it was getting one more year, or so they said. And when it’s down to gone forever or one more year, one more year seems really appealing. The trial drug did some good!
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time at Barneys in my life. I’ve had my charge card there for over 25 years. But this past month has been different. I’ve gone every day. It was like soaking up all the time you could with a best friend who is moving far away.
Each evening I would stop by on the way home from work. One lap around the purse floor. Maybe a stop on six. Seldom a purchase. More of a visitation. A pilgrimage of sorts.
Lucy and I went for lunch. One more Palm Beach Salad and the best fries in the city. We would find out the next day that while we were there, the chef behind the restaurant Fred’s was being escorted out of the building because he had told the truth about Richard Perry’s hand in Barneys’ demise. But we had a fun lunch and then Lucy and I had a final hour in the shoe department together.
Over the course of the last month I have bought things I needed or didn’t. But I knew it was likely my last chance.
The evening before the verdict about Barneys’ future was going to be decided, I went in for what could be my last stroll through handbags. One more hour with my buddy Barneys.
I didn’t need anything, but I wanted one more purchase. Luckily Glenn was out of cologne. I stopped in the men’s cologne department. I started talking to a lovely man who worked there. We commiserated. He had been there fifteen years. This is a person who was devoted to his job. Loved his job and this was very likely the eve he was going to lose it.
We talked about it. About the store. What it meant to so many. What his job meant to him. How at this point in his life he would be able to find another job he liked as much, where he could make the living, he had been making all these years at Barneys. By the end we were hugging and exchanging cards.
So, it sold to the what we now learn is the lying liquidation company. Again redundant.
The first thing they said was “we are keeping it open.” The newspapers declared they had been able to strike a deal with the landlords on the rent. Wait, a happy ending to this story. All my sadness and maudlin visits to the store were for naught.
Lucy and I would again have fries and salad at Fred’s. I would sit on the bench in the jeans section for hours while Taylor tried on jeans unable to decide which she wanted. Both girls would whine their way into Chanel ballet flats since I’m a sucker for them and they know how to work me better than anyone.
Yes, life would go on as it has. There would not be a giant hole on the corner of Madison and 61st Street.
And then, last night on my way home, I was on the other side of the street, and looked across thinking how I didn’t have to go in – it was staying open.
But in the windows I saw giant signs declaring Everything MUST Be Sold. Goodbuys – then Goodbye. Wait, they lie and then they are snarky and mean about announcing it. Then Goodbye???
I ran across the street and into the store.
I couldn’t find my friend in cologne or in purses. I found a nice woman who said she wasn’t sure what was going on.
In my heart I didn’t want to take advantage of Barneys’ misfortune. But the shopper in my thought if I could get The Row bag I’ve been eyeing for half off, better me than someone else.
But she said the sale was only 5%. 5% is not a sale. 5 % is not even sales tax off. She told me not to bother.
She told me she thought the place would be closed by the January. She told me she was looking for another job.
I left with nothing. Except sadness. It’s not just a store. Stores, as well as all types of other businesses, make up communities, cities, neighborhoods. Some, like Barneys, are destinations, they anchor a neighborhood.
The woman at Smythson across the street told me they had moved to that spot because of Barneys – it would bring business. That is how these cities operate.
Without them, I don’t know what you have.
The streets here feel bleak. No neighborhood is spared. Every other store front seems to be for rent. All that seems to be opening are colossal stores that feel as though they don’t belong. Target. A colossal Neiman Marcus in the ghastly mall of Hudson Yards. Last week a Nordstrom’s opened up in one of the new twenty-million-foot-tall buildings that suddenly dot the skyline.
Yeah, I know life is about change. The world moves on. It’s not just Barneys, it’s everything. But Barneys is emblematic of the bigger shift and change in the way we live our lives.
Stores are not just places for consumption, they are a way of life for many. A place to go and be with other people, a place to get inspiration and see pretty things, even if you don’t end up owning them. Stores have offered me much solace in many times of loneliness. They are a place to go and see people and talk to them.
They are little communities inside larger ones. And in big cities where people are becoming more disconnected by the nano second, they are often an important spot for human interaction.
Barneys has given me retail pleasure. It’s calmed me when I’ve been anxious. It’s given me company when I‘ve been lonely. I’ve made friends there, met friends there, it’s been a part of my adult life for as long as I remember.
And no matter what people say – even those who trashed it -it will be missed deeply and its absence a giant chip out of the cities charm and many people’s lives.