I could feel the hot tears spilling down my face as I sat in the passenger seat beside my mother in the parking lot of my ballet school. I don’t remember if I was having a bad day, or if I was just a hormonal, confused teenager (I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old), but my mother, who has always been my best friend, could feel my agony. Torn over how to eliminate the anguish from her daughter’s life, she sympathetically asked, “Do you want to go to Loehmann’s?” That Wednesday evening I traded in my pointe shoes for platform shoes and slowly felt those teen spirits rise.
Loehmann’s has been part of my life, my entire life. In the early ’90s, I recall my mother being shocked when she heard the store might be closing, “it’s the end of an era,” she said. As a young child more interested in stuffed animals than clothes, I thought she was overreacting, I mean, it’s just a store, right?
By the time I was 12, in 1997, I realized I was wrong. Loehmann’s was much more than just a store. For my family, it was a familial stomping ground, a sacred temple, and most of all, a memory box.
I have vivid memories of my grandfather, who was lovingly called Pa, patiently waiting at the storefront in a less than comfy chair. He’d sit as his wife, his daughters and his granddaughters (aka the Garland Girls) got high from the smell of designer clothes at bargain prices. An impeccable dresser himself, Pa would eat breakfast in a Missoni sweater, watch TV in a pair of slacks, and had a wooden horn for every shoe in his closet. Though he’d throw a snide remark out here or there, I think it made him happy to watch his sometimes sloppy brood make successful purchases. On a good day, he’d even pay the bill!
When I first started going to Loehmann’s I was a pre-teen. They had so many styles I loved and pieces I cherished. Upon arriving home I would throw a fashion show for my father showing off my brand new wardrobe. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the “Back Room,” where “the good stuff” was. Designers like Moschino, Valentino, Catherine Malandrino, Roberto Cavalli, Jean Paul Gaultier, and more could be found on the racks of the Back Room. One note worthy purchase: a cobalt blue Moschino coat (Retail Price: $800; Purchase Price: < $200).
As mentioned earlier, Loehmann’s served as a type of tribal retreat for the Garland Girls. I saw my family after my first semester at Syracuse University at our beloved store. As my aunt approached she yelled, “Hey College Girl!” I remember my cousin and I speeding through the racks, a labor of love, occasionally stopping to point out an absolutely ridiculous frock. Sometimes I would take an embarrassing piece of clothing into the dressing room just to see the disparaging expression on my grandmother’s face. Like Pa was, she too, is a faultless dresser. Last year while trying clothes on, my grandmother, who we call Loni, tried out a cardigan that just wasn’t for her. That cardigan now sits in my closet, that is, of course, when I’m not wearing it.
Trading clothes in the dressing room was a tradition in and of itself. If an item didn’t fit, it would simply gets passed down the line until one of two things happened. It was either snatched up by someone else in the family or dressing room, or it was scrapped and sent to the reject rack that stood center stage. The large and completely open Loehmann’s dressing room seemed to be the only acceptable place to tell a complete stranger that a pair of jeans made them look fat. A room consisting of four mirrored walls is a woman’s greatest enemy, but instead of ripping your head off, said stranger would take one last look at herself in those horrid jeans, and then agree with you. Although newcomers were not always used to the lack of privacy, it was something that never gave me pause. Of course, I do understand why some felt reluctant. I mean, I’ve seen more bare breasts in a Loehmann’s dressing room than I have on a nude beach in Saint Maarten.
After a lifetime of memories, I can’t believe my cherished store is closing. While walking through the Back Room on the Upper West Side earlier this week, my mother and I shook our heads in disbelief, as our hearts sank to our stomachs. The entire store was on sale, and instead of being excited, we were sad.
The night before my cousin, Kristina’s, Bat Mitzvah, I bought a pair of Tahari slingbacks for $14.99 at the store in Bethesda. When my cousin, Nicole’s, twins were born, I bought two sets of ridiculously adorable socks at the store in Chelsea. The week of my bridal shower I bought a Chloe dress for the affair, and for my rehearsal dinner I claimed a pair of Charles Jourdan heels. I have 28 years of memories that can no longer be triggered by walking into a Loehmann’s store. A piece of my childhood, my teenage years, and my adult life thus far has come to an end. And as we know all too well, it is never easy to say goodbye.
My mom was right all those years ago… It really is the end of an era.