The year I started in the Fashion Office at Saks Fifth Avenue, I sold in the Holiday Boutique the next year I was managing it! I managed the department for many years and we eventually moved, after we expanded, to the Fourth Floor. We opened the day after Thanksgiving (it wasn’t called Black Friday in the late 50’s early ’60’s) and closed at the end of business on Christmas Eve. I wanted to share a brief story of the Shop with you this Holiday season.
I pulled merchandise from all over the Store to fill the Shop with the best of the best items I could gather. The Shop was set up in the Millinery Salon on the Main Floor of the 669 North Michigan Avenue building (now Niketown!) Joe Kreis, our Display Direction (now would be Visual Merchandise Director) had special covers made for the millinery dressing tables and decorated it beautifully. I changed the position of the merchandise almost daily to make everything seem fresh for returning clients and there were many who looked forward to this shopping experience. We had a lot of gentlemen who regularly shopped for gifts for their wives (and others!). And I had a staff who knew the store’s merchandise well. I tried to use the same staff each year, some were regular sales associates and a couple I hired for the season, I let them sell while I would get the needed items for the department. We also had our house models wear garments from the Shop to bring clients to us. We had a cashier wrapper in the beginning years and behind the Shop was a large stock room where I could store duplicate items and packing materials. Much of the merchandise I chose was not new for the department but rather what caught my eye from all over the store and the sales associates always promoted each piece as if it was a crown jewel!
I did continue my regular duties in the Fashion Office, we had weekly and monthly shows, called tearoom shows at the time, placed the advertising, which, of course, was heavier during the Holiday season, etc. We weren’t open on Sundays as yet so that gave me a bit of a break. It was an extremely exciting time and all of us really enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the department. We had excellent traffic from the beginning and our clients looked forward to the shop each year.
Here is what the department looked like for several years. You can see the wonderful molding, almost floor to ceiling mirrors on the three walls and a magnificent chandelier. I usually color coordinated each area or had a theme, such as less expensive, “pick-up” items together, more expensive one of a kind items up higher to prevent theft, etc. To the right of this very blurry photo, you can just see a vitrine where I placed expensive pieces such as jewelry or precious items from the gift shop. To the left on the floor at the base of the tree is a very pricey exquisite set of tapestry luggage. I was very keen on selling that set but unfortunately, it sat there for the entire season until……closing on Christmas Eve! A gentleman walked into the department at 5 and wanted to purchase the entire set of six pieces and wanted it specially gift-wrapped (each piece separately), of course, he did! I had to keep the cashier wrapper to help, I became the sales associate (I used one of the ladies sales number to ring the sale!) and more importantly, I, of course, had to keep the Store open while I searched for large enough boxes to fit these oversized items, so the shipping and receiving area had to remain open as well. This took at least an hour but the transaction was completed to the joy of the customer. The only problem with this is that I had Open House on Christmas Eve at home, a family tradition, and had a very large group coming around 8, it was now at least 6:30 (we closed at 5 on Christmas Eve) and I lived in Evanston, fortunately, there was very little traffic and I got home quickly. I went up to my room to change into more festive cocktail attire and thought I would just rest for a few minutes….the next thing I knew it 8, not pm but am…I had slept straight through my own party and the Christmas Eve festivities…I didn’t even get a cup of our special eggnog….so much for that year!
Since Chicago has always been a hub for entertainers, the Holiday Boutique was on their radar. They would shop anonymously as we weren’t allowed to ask for autographs nor really treat them differently from our regular clients….can you imagine that today in the world of social media, selfies and reality shows!!!! We even had a “floor walker” who greeted all the clients when then entered the Store (year round). A totally different world.
Having run its course, according to whoever was the Store Manager at the time decided that the Holiday Boutique was no longer relevant. When Saks moved to the present location at 700 North Michigan Avenue in 1990 it was like a legend lost in time, until a new Store Manager, saw the above photo on my office wall and asked what it was. After I explained it to him and now much we produced in a short period of time each year, he wanted to reinstare it. We did for a couple of years in a very small space in the Designer Salon which was then on the Fourth Floor. In my opinion, this sort of shop should always be a main floor department. I did the assortments a bit differently and bought some items expressively for the shop usually at antique shows and flea markets to add to the merchandise in the Store. In addition, I had special holiday trees, done by our florist, that could be special ordered along with decorative special occasion cakes and specialty items from our caterer all created exclusively for the Shop. My feeling was always to offer what you couldn’t get elsewhere.
A view of the Holiday Boutique in the late 1990’s
A close up of one of the shelving areas of the shop. Obviously, this was a golden moment!
Those were the days my friends!!!! Happy Holidays to all!!
Photos courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.