Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Department store dining and what it has to do with anything

While reducing the clutter in my house recently, I came on a magazine article about department store dining rooms. Inevitably, it sent me on my own rambling retail culinary gallop.

My first stop was at Belk department store in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. For many years as a buyer and merchandise manager with Belk stores, I spent a lot of time in Charlotte. A lot meaning out of the ten years I worked for them, cumulatively, two of those years were in a Charlotte hotel room. At the time, our buying services were downtown right next to the then flagship Belk store.

So, inevitably, we’d wind up eating at the Belk cafeteria sometime over the course of that week. It was geared to accommodate the large crowds, which arrived for market weeks. Standard cafeteria fare, we’d eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes and discuss things like which planned purchase distributions we’d accept and which ones we’d decline and what percentage increases we expected in our women’s sportswear departments. During my tenure with Belk stores, the cafeteria eventually went the way of the dinosaur when the Belks opened up their new buying services center out on the Billy Graham parkway. But I always missed it.

Across the street from the downtown Belk sat the Ivey Department store. The building now is luxury condominiums, but at the time, it housed several floors of merchandise and one delightful restaurant on an upper floor called the Tulip Terrace. Other buyer friends and I would make our way across the street from Belk, and after perusing shoes for a while, we’d take the elevator upstairs. We’d usually order the Ivey leaf plate, with chicken salad and some sort of frozen fruit concoction. We’d linger over lunch in our big shouldered eighties suits and gaze out the windows at the churchyard next door with its old plantings and beautiful flowers. When I think of idyllic moments in my life, the lunches at Tulip Terrace would certainly be included in the list.

Next on the list was the Macy’s lunch counter in New York. After working all morning on Seventh Avenue, I’d stroll up to Sixth and take one of the clickety clack escalators up to the lunch counter. (By the way, on a visit just a few years ago, I found a few of the wooden escalators still in operation at Macy’s. They’ve probably had to cannibalize every part they could get their hands on from other escalators they were taking down just to keep a few running, but it definitely is worth it for the nostalgia.)
A 1980's Time Square on the walk to Seventh Avenue
Here I am in a New York Showroom with order pad in hand. The vendor took this picture. I think I'm giving him my special, "You've got to be kidding me" salesman look.
 I don’t remember much about the food at the Macy’s lunch counter, but I remember the feeling of sitting there thinking the cameras might start rolling any minute in a reenactment of Miracle on 34th Street.

At my last visit, Macy’s still serves food in their Cellar, but they’ve turned the lunch counter into retail space.

But seriously, I don’t think it would have the black and white feel of the lunch counter.

So, now you’re trying to understand why you’ve read this post and what it has to do with anything. Well, I wasn’t sure either when I first started writing it, but then I often don't know exactly where I'm going when I start to write (Terry Kay, "You don't write to tell a story. You write to discover a story).
But as I’ve written, I've realized that in our grief, it’s important to remember past joy, not to get stuck in the past but to remember that ahead are more times like the ones we’ve already had. That the wonder already experienced is not confined to days gone by, but new experiences lie ahead which, at some point, will also be referred to with nostalgic affection.

Hey, and who knows, maybe one day, I might even find I like that Macy’s bistro a lot more than I’d guess.

“Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Philippians 3:14 The Message).

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