Covid-19 makes this holiday season less joyous, with travel and social gatherings placing family members at risk. But there’s another reason the holidays in New York City will be less festive. For the second year, there will be no holiday windows at Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The store was closed last January after being sold to the workplace leasing company, WeWork, which has since sold the building to Amazon.
It’s ironic that Amazon, responsible for driving shoppers online, will take over a building once known for creating the quintessential shopping experience. Back before we could purchase the latest fashions through a computer or smart phone, we flocked to Lord & Taylor to see those styles in person. When I first moved to New York in 1976, one of my friends, a fabric designer who worked blocks away, told me that Lord & Taylor’s windows were closely watched by the fashion industry. What designers would set the tone for the season? Was there a new creative whose business would be given a boost? Would hemlines be up or down? Would pants be slim or flared? Flats or high heels?
Each morning, before the store opened, early arrivals were allowed inside and were served coffee as they sat in chairs. At 10 a.m., everyone stood when the National Anthem played over the loudspeakers. Then it was time to shop and we all headed to our favorite departments.
Lord & Taylor’s service set it apart from other department stores in New York (with the possible exception of Saks). The sales people were polite, experienced, and eager to help without being pushy. It wasn’t unusual to form a relationship with a particular sales person who kept in mind your preferences and would even call about a new line coming in or a sale being scheduled.
The store’s Bird Cage Restaurant was legendary. Yes, there were actual birdcages decorating the space, but no live birds. While there were tables for couples or larger parties, I loved the single seats that were arranged against one of the walls. It was often called a “tea room” and one of my favorite lunches was the selection of tea sandwiches. It made for a light, quick lunch enjoyed solo with the intent of getting back to the shopping.
While the fashion windows were always a draw, they could never compare with the store’s holiday windows. Other department stores in New York continue to create these displays, but for me they seem more ostentatious and less in keeping with the season. Lord & Taylor’s windows weren’t religious, but they evoked a time and place where families and friends gathered to celebrate together. There was always a theme and the moveable figures and animals captivated young and old. Barriers were set up outside and locals and tourists alike patiently waited for their turns to gaze at the tableaus.
There is no place in the world like New York for the holidays. We still have Rockefeller Center with that magnificent tree. Although the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will not be marching through Manhattan’s streets, we can watch on television from 9 a.m. to noon. And we can look forward to Macy’s holiday windows. But we will still miss Lord & Taylor.
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