This holiday season I am avoiding the corner of Rush and Oak.
Barneys New York no longer stands on that corner on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
After the luxury retailer filed for bankruptcy this summer, it abruptly closed a number of its stores around the country. Including here. Barneys on Oak Street was shuttered the day of the announcement.
I didn’t believe it. I called the store, hoping I could come in for clearance windfalls. Before mourning, could a pair of 80-percent-off Manolo Blahnik stilettos be in my future?
Someone answered the phone and said the store was closed. I asked where the inventory was going. Other stores, the person said. No final liquidation sale, no goodbyes. No last monochrome shopping bag filled with a grandeur garment. Not to mention a terrible way to treat employees.
Barneys is — well, was — my favorite store. At Christmastime, my father and I shopped there together. A sleek dress for my sister, a cashmere sweater for my mother, a high-fashion shirt for my husband. Whiskey tumblers for my cousin.
This season, we didn’t even bother walking in Barneys’ direction.
The store’s closing prompts me to regard how it has long been tied to special memories for family, friends and me.
I started visiting Barneys regularly in 2006. My mother and I one night watched the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” and felt inspired to look at beautiful clothes the next day. Barneys was the obvious option. The women’s second floor of high-end designers was like ambling through an art museum. Clothes are little pieces of iconography or simply stunning to gaze at.
Seriously, who can get into a car practically with some of those Junya Watanabe puffy coats?
That day I went upstairs, to the co-op floor, where less expensive clothes hung. I bought a DVF navy blue dress on sale.
Soon after, my friend Suzy connected me with Cue, a Barneys sales associate and the perfect stylist. Over the years, he has outfitted me for important occasions when I needed the perfect dress, along with friends Lauren, Adrienne and Alison. Whenever my cousins Kim and Tracey visited Chicago, Barneys was a stop. I indulged, too. I bought a very expensive bottle of perfume — too expensive for me to confess in this column — but the Frederic Malle bottle is signed and six years later, I still have it. The sandalwood, patchouli and rose scent goes a long way. When you spend that much money, Barneys invites you to a free facial.
When my oldest stepdaughter had a good report card her junior year of high school, my sister and I treated her to lunch at Fred’s, the restaurant on the top floor of Barneys. We are ladies who like to lunch. And that introduction solidified her expensive taste. (Foolish me!)
For the younger two stepdaughters, they have received stocking stuffers with glittery nail polish. I loved buying gifts at Barneys — the golden shower gel, the silk blouse, the bouquet candle.
The first time I took my newborn on an outing that didn’t involve a pediatrician, she was three weeks old. It was a Mother’s Day weekend with family in town. I surprised them by showing up at Fred’s for lunch. My daughter quietly slept. And that little girl, now three, responded with astonishment when Barneys closed.
Teri, in cosmetics, once let my daughter go behind the counter to be her helper and sweetly rewarded her with colorless shimmer on her lips. The picture is preserved in my phone, taken by my cousin Kim.
My last Barneys outing was another Mother’s Day weekend with my mom and sister. We sisters picked out CBD lotion for her. I got some, too.
Alas, shopping trends have changed and retailers across the spectrum are adapting and closing. And Barneys is no more. I’ll still be able to find the clothes Barneys sold, though not their house label. But I’m losing something else — the personal, decadent experience.
Now Chicago’s high-end shopping district is a little less bright and a six-story blight sticks out on the corner of Oak and Rush Streets.
Natalie Moore is a reporter for WBEZ.org
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