There aren’t a lot of movies out there that appeal to the Boomer set, so when one finally appears, we organize a girls’ outing, line up for our cheap seniors’ tickets, then line up again for our gallon pail of Diet Coke and bucket of chemically questionable popcorn. That’s what happened this week when my gal pals and I settled in to see Paris Can Wait starring Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard with a cameo by Alec Baldwin. The reviews weren’t great but we figured it would be worth the price of admission to see wide shots of French scenery.
Diane Lane plays the neglected wife of a movie producer (Alec Baldwin) who can’t fly to Paris from the French Riviera because of an inner ear ailment. When Jacques, a French associate producer played by Arnaud Viard offers to drive her, since he’s ‘going that way’, she reluctantly agrees. What should be a direct drive becomes several days exploring the historical, esthetic and culinary delights of Provence and the Rhône Valley under the tutelage of the charming Frenchman. Eventually, they do get to Paris. Sounds like a wonderful trip.
In our opinion, the only people who really enjoyed Paris Can Wait would be those who starred in and were involved in making the movie. They got to spend a few weeks in France during the summer on an expense account while getting paid a nice salary. I don’t always agree with the critics, but this time, they were right. One of my gal pals even fell asleep toward the end. The plot was trite and Harlequin-novel-like. Every cloud has a silver lining though. The Rick Steeves-like descriptions of local tourist attractions and beautiful cinematography were wonderful. That and the popcorn, followed by the four of us going for tea at Timmies after the movie made the afternoon worthwhile. Save your money. Wait for it to come on television and watch it for free. My advice? Pass Paris and proceed directly to Timmies.
Can’t find an obscure item in the mall or hardware store, or perhaps you’re just feeling lazy and don’t feel like putting your face on to go out in public? Or, maybe what you’re looking for isn’t available in Canada. Technology has brought us down the yellow brick road to a wonderful place called on-line shopping. Our love affair with on-line shopping has hurt bricks and mortar retailing stores but damn, it makes life so much easier. And with the poor customer service offered in many retail establishments, it’s no wonder we’re embracing the alternatives.
A few weeks ago I wanted one of those tiny paring knives with a two-inch curved blade. It’s handy for certain kitchen chores and wasn’t available anywhere, except on line. Ordered two just to be on the safe side and for less than ten dollars they were at my door a couple of days later. Problem solved. I also follow a website called “Shopstyle.com” that notifies me when something I like goes on sale. The site scours the internet for brands and items I’ve indicated I like and automatically connects me with the retailer offering it when it goes on sale. I’ve scored some great Eileen Fisher pieces for up to 70% off as well as deals on my beloved FitFlop™ sandals. Out-of-print or hard to find books can easily be sourced on-line. Amazon’s used books service has brought books right to my door from the U.K. in a few days for as little as one cent plus shipping. Then there’s the fun and anticipation of waiting for your goodies to arrive—it’s like counting sleeps ’til Christmas morning.
Because I use Amazon so extensively, it was worth signing up for their Amazon Prime membership. For $99.00 a year my deliveries are ‘free’ which, when I do the math is still cheaper than paying shipping charges on each order. And, if I could figure out how to use the movie download feature on my iPad I would have access to movies and TV shows as well. I’ll figure that out as soon as I sort out how to turn on my new cell phone. But that’s another story.
This is all good practice for when I can no longer drive to go shopping. While I could take the bus, that involves waiting on a freezing cold or sweltering hot street corner for my connection, then lugging my heavy bags up the street. Letting my gnarly old fingers do the walking just seems so much easier. By the time we Boomers have to give up our driving privileges, I hope on-line shopping has amped up the meals-on-wheels choices and wine deliveries to accommodate our evolving needs. When their drones can drop a DQ chocolate peanut blizzard at my front door before it melts, then I will have achieved nirvana. Coming soon to a door near you—it’s worth staying alive for.
My love/hate relationship with The Hudson’s Bay Company (comparable to Macy’s in the United States) just took a turn. I want to scream “I told you so”. When I heard the news they’re laying off thousands of people in response to declining sales I felt an immense sense of sadness for the sales associates who work there at low wages and will be losing their jobs. But what about the customers? In all matters relating to retail, the number one factor that gets ignored in the equation is the customer. The experts and execs say the cuts are necessary because customers are resorting to on-line shopping. No bloody wonder.
I love The Hudson’s Bay Company and have their limited edition Barbie doll to prove it. As Canada’s oldest retailer (350 years+), Hudson’s Bay has been my default department store since the days when Robert Simpson Company occupied their stores. Over the years, I’ve written snail mail letters to the executives, emailed store managers and blogged about their abysmal customer service. Obviously they weren’t listening to me—the customer—after all, what do I know? Shopping at Hudson’s Bay Company is an experience right up there with shopping at Costco, minus the giant carts. Their stores offer an overwhelming inventory of great, good and not-so-good merchandise, crammed into unimaginative space with minimal eye-appealing merchandising, no visible sales associates to help customers and tiring lineups at the few available check-outs. What’s crucial is we expect better from Hudson’s Bay.
The bean counters have deemed that the problem with The Hudson’s Bay Company can be solved by reducing the payroll. Brilliant! That’s like closing the barn door after the horses have left. And replacing them with wooden replicas. I’m going to really love shopping at a store where the service is even worse (is that even possible?) than before. As the humble generator of business and the total raison d’être for Hudson’s Bay to exist, I, the customer would once again like to offer my suggestions for improving sales and ultimately the bottom line:
Audit and edit your merchandise. Get rid of the crap no one wants to buy. Pare down inventory. This might require editing your buyers as well. Are your buyers truly tuned in to your customers?
Use the money saved from getting rid of excess inventory to hire more sales associates to help me find sizes, assist with “looks” and suggest options.
Put these new additional sales associates on the floor to actually help customers, not just be chained to the checkout desk attending to lineups.
Expand the use of tasteful displays and mannequins. I’m often inspired to purchase by creative merchandising displays. Downtown flagship stores are lovely but suburban mall stores frequently resembles a jumble sale. Make the shopping experience more (dare it say it?) enjoyable. Unfortunately . . . see Item 2.
Pay your staff enough that they enjoy what they’re doing and take pride in being a sales associate. Provide better training. Paying overworked sales associates minimum or low wages only causes resentment. This can be financed by following Item 1 above.
Amp up the store environment. Improve strategic lighting and deep six the blanket fluorescent lights treatment. How about placing a few comfortable chairs with side tables offering inspirational fashion brochures from manufacturers or current fashion magazines. Maybe some videos of how to put outfits together?
Send employees to the Nordstrom school of retail training.
Always search above and beyond what’s available on the floor. When you don’t have my size, offer to find it. See Item 7 above.
Don’t ever forget who ultimately pays your bills—me, the customer.
Check with your customers once in a while to see how we’re doing? In all my fifty-plus years of department store shopping, I’ve never once had a retailer ask me what I want. It would be so easy to survey customers through accounts or on-line. I’d love to have the opportunity of being heard by serving on a customer council.
As someone who once worked for Eaton’s at their College Street store in Toronto, I have experience on both sides of the counter. Is anyone listening? Or are your customers irrelevant? Therein lies the problem. I told you so.
Here are some links to previous blog postings about Hudson’s Bay and general retail concerns:
One of the fashion bloggers I like to follow (click here for Susan After 60) has recently admitted she can longer wear her beloved heels and is now sporting fashionable flats on a regular basis. Susan lasted longer than most of us. I clearly remember wearing high heels in my younger days and treating the shoes and my feet like they were invincible. For many years I lived and worked in downtown Toronto and could walk to and from work. I’ve never been a morning person and often ended up running to work so I wouldn’t be late. Sprinting through the downtown streets in gorgeous heels it never once occurred to me that one day my graceful high arches would rebel.
Over the years I started paying more attention to comfort although I never did stoop to wearing running shoes back and forth from the office. The lower right drawer of my desk was filled with all my gorgeous fashion shoes that I switched into as soon as I sat down and removed my comfie walking shoes. Nothing is more empowering than strutting around the office in sexy heels. Inevitably, as my chronological age went up, the heels went down. By the time I retired, I could barely get through the office Christmas party in heels.
Then it happened—plantar fasciitis. It’s an inflammation of the elastic ligament that runs between the ball of the foot and heel. You’ll know you have it as soon as you put your foot on the floor when you get out of bed in the morning. Putting your foot down and walking will generate excruciating pain in the bottom of your heel. You can somewhat work it out as the day goes on, but it comes roaring back and can last years.
The first time I experienced plantar fasciitis, I cured it with hip replacements. Being off my feet for awhile after the surgery allowed the inflamed plantar fascia to calm down and heal. I was mercifully pain-free until about three months ago. Then, one morning it returned in my right foot with a vengeance. Turning to Google, I tried every home remedy recommended including ice, massage, reflexology, rolling a golf ball and tennis ball under my foot, stretching exercises and nothing worked. Since another hip replacement seemed a bit over-the-top, I visited a foot doctor who gave me a shot of cortisone in the bottom of my heel to reduce inflammation. It has mitigated the pain somewhat but I’m not out of the woods yet.
My future now consists of footwear with industrial strength arch supports and lots of cushioning and support. I’ve always had good luck with FitFlops™ (click here for link, and they’re on sale), a branded sandal designed by a British foot doctor, but I may have to opt for something even more structured. We blithely take our various body parts for granted when they’re working as they should but as soon as something like our backs, feet or knees crap out, we gain an immeasurable respect and appreciation for our parts when they’re healthy and functioning. I’ve been unable to walk the dog or even myself for a few months and I can’t wait to get back to normal. I’ll thank our spirit sisters every day when I’m fully mobile again.
I refuse to say goodbye to my tough-looking biker boots just yet though. With a closet full of lovely shoes I’m heavily invested in healing. Women who love shoes will understand when I tell them about the ritual performed when I bring new shoes home. I place them, like a work of art on the diningroom table to admire, fresh out of the box. Then, at bedtime, I move them to my night table where they’ll be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Perhaps it’s a throwback to growing up in the more austere fifties and sixties when we were lucky to get a new pair of shoes every couple of years. Boomer sisters will understand the magic powers of gorgeous shoes. They elevate not only our legs but our very souls. From fuscia pink suede platforms I purchased in London, England in the swinging sixties to mustard yellow suede platforms worn in my tottering sixties . . . and all the years in between, shoes have been part of beautiful memories.
When I see retail sales assistants prancing around in gorgeous four-inch python-printed strappy heels, I react like a grouchy old lady (which if you regularly read my blogs, you’ll understand). “Enjoy them while you can” I say. “Someday you’ll be wearing Mephistos and Birkenstocks like me.” But I promise they’ll be python printed or bright red patent leather. And you’ll never see me wearing them with socks. That would just be too embarrassing. At least not until I’m in ‘the home’ and by then I’ll be too stoned on medical marijuana-infused gummy bears and too blissfully unaware of my feet to care.
Footnote: I receive no financial or other benefit from mentioning FitFlops™, Hudson’s Bay or Ron White Shoes in this post.
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Every so often we come across a book that is a total joy to read, start to finish. That’s what happened when I read Paris Lettersby Canadian Janice MacLeod. It’s a true account of her journey after growing up in small town Ontario to living an artist’s life in Paris. Upon finishing university, she embraced the Madmen lifestyle, working in middle management as a direct mail copywriter for a major advertising agency in Los Angeles. After ten years of unfulfilling peddling on the corporate treadmill, she slowed down enough to listen to her inner voice. MacLeod read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (which I also read several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed), tried various hobbies, did some soul-searching and started a process of extricating herself from the corporate rat race and reevaluating society’s definition of success.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and MacLeod is traveling in Europe. First stop, Paris. Sipping café crème while journaling at a sidewalk café, she finds herself attracted to the handsome butcher operating the shop across the street. The inevitable happens and a quick romance ensues. But is it the real thing? She ventures on to Rome, Scotland and England, returning to Paris and her new friend to see how things shake out. A new life takes life.
Whatever path we follow, the bottom line is we still need to earn a living to cover the bottom line. MacLeod combines her love of simple water-colour painting and letter writing and creates a personalized subscription service which she markets on Etsy. She creates regular journal-style descriptions of her Paris life accompanied by her watercolour paintings of local street scenes which she sends in illustrated letters to subscribers.
As I turned each page of Paris Letters, I found myself smiling in recognition and empathy. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to take her life in a different direction. MacLeod tells us exactly how she engineered her transition including re-evaluating friendships, auditing and culling her physical surroundings, prioritizing her activities and taking control of her financial future. These are all processes we may have undertaken ourselves or would like to.
I clearly recall saving for a trip to Europe during my first two years of working from 1965 to 1967. I made $55.50 per week working for Ma Bell and allowed myself fifty cents a day for lunches in the Bell Cafeteria. That bought me mashed potatoes with gravy and one vegetable with a half-pint of milk. After two years, I’d accrued over three thousand dollars and my trip also became reality. She also refers to the bad dreams she still has about deadlines and projects from her corporate days. I also have those dreams even though I’ve been retired for several years. The stress of corporate life lingers long after we think it’s been banished.
MacLeod recounts an unsatisfactory love life during her early working years in Los Angeles describing it as devoted to becoming whoever her current boyfriend wanted her to be. “If a guy was a granola-eating hippie, so was I. If he was a runner, I was a runner.” Sound familiar? I could so relate to that and even blogged about it (click here to read ‘I love me too’). Oh, the mistakes we make when we’re young and foolish.
I read every page of Paris Letters with a smile on my face. It was an inspiring and uplifting read. I whizzed through it in a couple of days, although I wish it had lasted longer. I intend to read more by Janice MacLeod. Anything that makes me feel that good is good.