A Sparkling Vintage Life


Famous-Barr’s main floor in the late 1950s. Note how shoppers dressed in those days!

To be honest, the name on the plaque hasn’t read “Famous-Barr” for quite a while. Technically it’s Macy’s, the same way my beloved Marshall Field’s became Macy’s before closing its elegant revolving doors. But the landmark St. Louis department store will always be “Famous-Barr” to those who remember it fondly, just as Field’s remained Field’s to its fans. So I was sympathetic to the feelings expressed in a recent post on The Thinking Housewife, in which a reader named Alan writes with a tone of regret:

“The last remaining department store in downtown St. Louis has announced it will close this summer.”

He continues, “That came as no surprise to me. Only the willfully blind could imagine downtown is not dying. A man who opened a restaurant downtown in 1968 was calling it “done-town” by the time he retired in 2005. I knew he was right because I, too, had watched it decline, year after year.

“The department store is Macy’s but it was known for most of its life as Famous-Barr, a May Company store with ten floors of merchandise in a beautiful building called the Railway Exchange Building in the heart of downtown. One of my uncles worked there in the Katy Railroad office from the 1920s to the 1950s.

“How well I remember walking into the store through its brass revolving doors and riding the escalators to the upper floors. My father and I spent many hours browsing in the large book department on the sixth floor. Mannequins in a display window of the soon-to-close department store now wear backward baseball caps – a splendid example of trickle-up stupidity that Diana West could include in an updated edition of The Death of The Grown-Up. It symbolizes what happened between 1959 and now: A department store run by grown-ups was surrendered to people who take their cues from adolescents.”

You can read the full post here, and more about the store closing here.

What do you think caused the “death of the department store”? How about the “death of downtown”? What would it take to see a revival of both–and is that even something you’d like to see happen?

I know I would.