Loehmann's is going out of business.
My mother was the epitome of bargain shopper: she'd drive 20 miles to save a penny on toilet paper, but she'd save a penny. She was also a compulsive shopper who would only allow herself to buy discount. Bargain hunting was truly about the hunt; if a $800 Donna Karan sweater was out there marked down to $39.99 she was going to find it.
Loehmann's had a section called The Back Room and this was where the good stuff was. Next to Syms, The Back Room was her favorite haunt. Price tags had the retail price above their discount price so you could see exactly how much of a deal you were getting. During sales new prices would go on, but they were placed in a way where you could see the old. Bargains became real bargains.
The first time I went to Loehmann's I was in college and my mother took me to look for a dress for my step-brother's wedding. From then until about ten years ago, the way my mother and I bonded - sometimes the only way - was by going to Loehmanns and cruising the racks whenever I'd go north and visit her. I'd look in my size and style and she'd look in hers nearby and would constantly pull things in her style for me. "This sweater is Georgio Armani. It was $799.99 and is now on sale for ... you have to try this. It's $29.99"
"Ma, there's a giant snag down the front of it."
"Put a pin over it or one of your necklaces you paid full price for in New York. Look at this! Romeo Gigli, a jacket. $29.99. This is very sophisticated, perfect for New York."
"Ma, it's three sizes too big."
"You could wear the Armani sweater under it to bulk it up."
The Loehmann's near her was in Swampscott, Mass. and there were no dressing rooms. The Back Room had mirrors sporadically placed on the walls and when you found things to try you'd strip down wherever you could find a place to. Outside the Back Room were a row of chairs where men would sit holding Louis Vuitton purses on their laps, silently waiting to see how big the bill would be. Inside, women you've never seen would look you up and down assessing loudly whether or not a particular dress or pair of pants "suited you" or "fit right" or "showed your asset a little too tightly."
New York had a Loehmann's in the Bronx, which I never went to because it was too far from downtown, but then one opened up near 17th Street. The first time I walked in I felt simultaneously free given there was no at 19.99 you can roll the sleeves up soundtrack, but I also felt like I was cheating on her. Loehmann's was our time together; our conversations may have consisted only about fabric and give and washing instructions, but standing in our underwear let us feel close.
What I started to do was call her whenever I found something great, something that I knew would make her proud. "I got a Dolce and Gabbana silk shirt that was $699. I paid $79.99" She'd want to know the color, how to wash it, what I'd wear it with. After she died I didn't visit the store for a year - it was how I sat shiva - and then two years ago I ventured up to 17th Street. I went upstairs to the Back Room and it immediately felt different. Had Loehmann's lost its sheen because she died, or was it because of the new retail paradigm? I went back a few more times and there wasn't much to be had. Despite the savings there was nothing with my name on it, as she would say. But I saw that I, too, had changed. Since she passed, I no longer had it in me to scour the racks for a deal.
I still have the Dolce and Gabbana silk shirt as well as a Plein Sud sequined dress ($69.99 marked down from $800.) I also have a handknit Perry Ellis bodysuit from our first Back Room shopping trip ever, the one where we looked for a dress for my step-brother's wedding. I don't remember who made that dress but it was a killer. Over the next month I'll hit Loehmann's one more time, mostly to say goodbye. I'm really going for my mother; with everything on sale I can feel her twitching to get there. It's Prada for $19.99. A vest will hide the stain.