I purchase undershirts about once every two years – think of that what you will – and for the last 10 years, I’ve purchased them at once place: Macy’s.
Why Macy’s? Because once upon a time, Alfani seemed like a fancy brand and their white v-necks fit oh-so-snugly on my skinny white-boy frame. In a world of Wellness and protein-laced Cheerios, they make me feel less small – the undershirt equivalent of the Seinfeldian hotel soap-on-bicep routine. And so I’ve returned to Macy’s for years on end, occasionally for the other odd basic, but religiously, for undershirts.
Two years is an eternity in digital consumerism time and visiting the now hollowed-out shell of Seattle’s 3rd Ave Macy’s this weekend took my breath away. A once impressive, 6-story ode to capitalism is now less than half its former size. Women’s wear crunched up with men’s in the basement. Desolate looking makeup kiosks on ground level. Entire floors of beds, kitchenware, napkins, knick-knacks, Martha Stewart Everything - all gone forever.
It’s not hard to see how this came to be. There’s a small think-piece industry dedicated to the decline of retail that all manages to arrive at: Amazon - easy; retail - boring, hard.
And it’s true. There’s no sizzle in shopping at Macy’s, no experience to be shared or selfied. In the men’s section, too much of the clothing is plain, distressed, or vulgar. I saw a gold bomber there that I can only describe as “Trump Tower bathroom chic.”
Paying for things at Macy’s is a drag, too. Find me a better way to make someone feel like a sentient slab of meat with a wallet than asking them if they want a credit card for a dying retailer while they're buying cheap underwear. Better yet: find me an employee who loves peddling Macy’s cards to busy customers 10 hours a day.
And yet, part of me mourns the loss of this milquetoast slice of middle class experience. Growing up, nothing delighted me more than back-to-school sale trips to department stores with my grandmother – an annual tradition when she visited over the summer. My wife and I bought our first bed together at Macy’s and I remember it fondly - gleefully flopping on mattress after mattress, making googly eyes at each other, hoping that maybe we’d landed on the first Posturepedic for the rest of our lives.
I wonder if Macy’s ever realized such rich moments happened in its stores – seems like it could’ve built something around that to remind people of the power of real-life, brick and mortar experience. But Macy's didn’t try hard enough, didn’t disrupt, didn’t adapt; just keeps on playing catch-up with companies out to destroy it.
And so, Macy's dies slowly as it lived. A store with rooms full of stuff, much of it boring, that probably never deserved a place in my heart (but keeps a tiny one all the same).