The pandemic has accelerated the demise of department stores

When I moved to Baltimore, there were four department stores near the intersection of Howard and Lexington Streets. Within a few years, they were all gone.

I worked briefly for a department store in downtown Philadelphia in the fall and winter of 1975. This is all to the best of my recollections of a time over 45 years ago. I worked as a stock boy in the bedspreads, curtains and drapes department for $2.25 an hour. I made $86.50 a week. The downtown store served as a warehouse for the suburban branches. If a customer in a suburban store wanted a bed spread, it probably wasn’t there. The salesperson would call us to see if we had it. If yes, it was sent by truck to the store along with merchandise from other departments.

The building was from 1910 and had hand-operated elevators. The steps on the escalator were made of wood. One day, a woman’s shoe got stuck and went under a step into the inner workings of the escalator.

They were cheap. Our department got busy because people fixed up their homes for the holidays. When the stores expanded their hours for the holidays, did they hire more people to stock or give us more hours? No, they split the shifts. We were really swamped some days and evenings.

One day we had a sale of all of the curtains that hadn’t sold. We didn’t keep track of what styles they were, we just counted out a set number of items, put them in a tray and carried them out to the tables. It was a feeding frenzy. Customers were grabbing merchandise before we could even get it to a table. I still remember one lady. She had miraculously found three pairs of identical curtains and wanted a fourth. I thought it was amazing she found three and had no idea if there was another one. She was just about in tears and said, “Baby, baby, just one more pair.”

I don’t want to make it sound like a bad experience. I enjoyed my brief stay there.

reminds me of the big sales when I worked in a department store

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