When I was growing up, and needed new shoes/pants/sports coat/belt/tie for cotillion or picture day at private school or Mother's Day brunch at my grandparent's club or some other socioeconomically distinct affectation, we could go to a local men's clothing shop that used to be on Lake Avenue on Pasadena. I can't remember the name any more, but it had been there forever, and the people who helped you had fought in the Crimean War and had measured your grandfather's inseam and could get you into your monkey suit posthaste. More importantly it wasn't ruinously expensive; boys who went to expensive private schools and boys dressing for worship at modest working-class churches shopped their alike. We grumbled but it was a relatively merciful experience.
A couple of weekends ago I had to take my 12-year-old son, a bright and athletic young man who is currently the Yo Yo Ma of insolent tween sullenness, to buy shoes/pants/belt/tie/shirt/sports coat so he could have his seventh grade class picture taken at the same private school I went to. The Pasadena store is no more. All of the stores like that I knew — independent, local, moderately priced, with helpful staff — are no more. I don't think they can compete. What's left are chain stores, small stores that are cheap but terrible, and select small stores that are competent but deliberately grotesquely expensive and frequented by people to whom that doesn't matter.
So we went to the mall, and tried Macy's. Marcy's has decided to be competitive on prices. Macy's was a zoo, and the coat racks had been organized by the chimpanzees, and the quality was questionable and nobody was available to help and it looked like I would be there for hours as my son grew a dark ball of hate in his heart for me and for existence itself, trying to put together an outfit and figure out sizes.
So we walked down to Nordstrom.
At Nordstrom, a polite salesperson approached me immediately and assessed my need and conveyed, without words, that she would equip my son completely in suitable good-quality clothing that fit in about 15 minutes while I sat, and for the privilege I would pay — well, let's just say it was about half the monthly rent on my first apartment. She did; I did.1
With the hours saved and the filial goodwill preserved, we went to a diner and had burgers and watched football together, and talked about not liking ties.
I can live with that.
- It was still about 25-50% less than I would have paid at the remaining-but-deliberately-grotesquely-expensive men's stores in, say, San Marino. ▲
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