Sometimes you have an epiphany and this morning was one of those days as I considered what to share with you on this Throwback Thursday.
Some of you may know that my daughter owns her own surf and skate shop in Ocean Grove. From when she was about 10, she was fixated on fashion and owning her own shop. I could understand the fashion thing since my mom, unlike me, was a fashion plate. My mom was always dressed to the nines and was a sewing goddess. She’d make her own clothes and people would ask her if she was wearing Chanel.
But the wanting to own a shop part didn’t click until this morning when I thought about sharing this photo with you!
This is my dad at work in his father’s store in Havana. My grandfather’s store although I never really got to meet my grandfather since he stayed in Cuba and died there when I was a teen.
Except for a brief stint as a truck driver when my dad first got here from Cuba, my dad always worked retail. Actually, my dad was a fashion plate as well. He had an innate sense of what to wear and what colors worked well together. But back to the retail thing . . .
My dad worked at B. Altman & Co. for over 20 some years and I basically grew up in that store. From visits during the holidays to see the windows and visit Santa to working there part time in high school and through college, Altman’s was a part of my life. My mom would even take us to Altman’s Charleston Gardens on occasion for tea and confections.
I loved it and even considered accepting their offer of going through their management program, but in the end, I knew I wanted to get a college degree. Even that was facilitated in some part by the store since the Vice President of the store gave me a glowing recommendation during a scholarship interview for Villanova.
Altman’s treated their employees right. Commissions, a great thrift shop, purchasing discounts, training, and an excellent employee cafeteria.
Sadly, an IRS ruling forced the Altman Foundation to sell the stores and the new owners ended up having to declare bankruptcy.
The original Altman’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue was declared a landmark in 1985 and now houses a public library, CUNY graduate school and Oxford University Press.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, Altman’s and the other New York City stores that are now long gone (Gimbels, Bamberger’s, Bonwit Teller, Abraham & Strauss, EJ Korvette, Woolworth’s) really provided a very different way of life in the city. A better more genteel way of life. These stores provided jobs to so many people, but more importantly, they created memories at the same time.
You’ll see that in the first book in the Jersey Girl Bridesmaids as Maggie Sinclair, the heroine, tries to save the department store chain that her mother’s family founded over a century ago. I’ve incorporated a lot of my experiences working in Altman’s, but also growing up during that heydey of all the New York City department stores into the book.