Lord & Taylor’s Last 20% Off Sale

Last week, Lord & Taylor announced it was closing all of its stores after 194 years in business. I was already in a state of half-mourning as the Lord & Taylor in Boston already began its liquidation process — 20% — 40% percent off the store, final sale. Some might chop it up to the death of in-store retail, the pandemic, less spending, and more saving — rightly so. But it also signifies the beginning of the end of strolling, gazing, discounts if you forgot your coupon at home, knowing where you could get something and the person who could help you get it.

When I had lost all hope, I got the call. A cheery woman had welcomed me to my newest family — that of the department store kind. I took my post at the perfume counter, the call of the holiday season beckoning me to stand (and sometimes clean) the glass countertops that held hundreds of perfumes, body washes, and lotions all waiting to be picked up and dusted off, packed in paper for the holidays. In short — I had no idea what I was doing and spent a lot of time in the first few hours thinking about how I could jump over the counter and run back to my house.

The women that worked with me could smell fear and saw the loss of courage in my eyes. Instead of kicking me to the curb for their commission, they took me in and taught me: product names, how to sell, how to ring, and when and where to sit when my heels pressed too hard into my shoes. There were many things I could say that I learned during my time behind the register, on the floor, and hiding in the back rooms. The women at the makeup counter told me to understand my worth, the men in the Men’s department told me never to let anyone push me around. The customers proved to me that kindness to others is always the right choice, even when you have to try through a smile.

Getting in the car usually meant we were going to a store. I’m 13 or 14 now, starting to grow through my bones and out of my shoes. When I look to my Mom I see structure, polish, resolve, analytical mind, and a sense for fabrics. We took the drive down the street to the store. Lord & Taylor held a power — standing resolute in its structure, filled with worlds I hadn’t discovered fully yet: high-heels, full faces of makeup, and business suits. We stopped our browsing with lunch at Sara Beth’s restaurant at the top of the store, ordering grilled cheeses and tomato soups to rest our feet before we continued shopping together. The view was of the parking lot, but in the sky, I watched the person that I was going to be formed through the clouds, a little bit older, more resolved, and strong.

Being raised with a retail mom meant that I was exposed to the world early — taking trips into the office with her in Manhattan, skimming through tee-shirt designs, and trying to sell my drawings to her coworkers. Clothes for me held power — stock in having the latest Aeropostale designs and staying on top of teen trends — layering, scarves, sometimes wearing a skirt as a shirt. It seemed as if anything was possible with the right clothes.

When I was on the hunt for my first job — no car, no kid watching skills, no stomach to hyper-customer service at the food places in town, I had my heart settled on retail. Every single store down the street that had open applications, I applied. Without a car, I mapped out bus routes to get to the mall if needed. I was a high school graduate headed off to college, and I was itching to move my hands and feet — looking to pick up extra cash for movie nights and sorority outfits that I would inevitably need. A retail job would mark my first stake as what I considered an adult — someone who paid taxes and got new clothes at an employee discount.

It’s easy to say it was about the people more than the place. Listening to their stories of customers, about their families, about where they were from and where they were headed. Leaning on each other to get through 10 to 12-hour days, folding and refolding, dealing with the holiday rush. From the women who taught me about self-worth to the college-aged guy who taught me about wanting more from my relationships — not only wanting but expecting and deserving.

Working the floor, I day-dreamed about the woman I would become — where I would be when college ended, what the rest of forever would shape up to look like. Imagining myself in Ralph Lauren, polished and put together, multiple novels under my belt, a house with a wrap-around porch, and a view. Folding the shirts correctly that laid out in front of me, stacked perfectly for a shopper to take home that day, I could imagine myself in these clothes, grown out and someone who knew where they were going.

Diary entry: December 23, 2014: I can work a perfume counter and sell the crap out of gift sets. I can turn the Kiehl’s guy into my friend. I can sell dinnerware and pillar candles and learn about myself and others and work through my troubles and work 10 hours a day standing around on my feet all day and survive and I can fail and survive and I can make myself better every day and I find myself in a better place than before and it all means that I am getting better.

Top songs from Lord & Taylor’s playlist:

  • So good — destiny’s child
  • Just fine — mary j. blige
  • September — earth wind and fire

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No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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Meredith Wilshere

Meredith Wilshere

New York native with a Boston twist, I’m a recent college graduate trying to navigate through all the changes, challenges of my early to mid to late twenties.

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