After months in lockdown, my credit card was begging, gasping for air. So, when Nordstrom emailed me to announce they had reopened their Sherway Gardens store in Toronto’s west end after three months in COVID darkness, plans for my coming-out began. They missed me! What to wear? What time of day is best to go? Will their café be open for lunch? Will they be displaying piles of old winter stock for sale or will it be fresh new spring and summer merchandise? Will I be able to try out the testers in cosmetics if they’re sterilized first? After all, I’d been planning on buying a new lipstick, and as any boomer gal knows it’s impossible to make a selection without trying on. Should I maybe get a new cream blush too?
It’s been a horrible spring. On top of the shitty weather, we’re all suffering from being house-bound with nowhere to wear our new spring tops and shoes and now it’s summer already. We’ve almost forgotten how to properly accessorize. Will I have to relearn how to apply eyeliner? Then, there’s the bigger issue—will my white jeans still fit? I’d love to wear them with the new animal print sneakers I bought over the winter that have been collecting dust in the front hall closet. And, will they let me in the door with this hair? I look pretty scary after months without a visit to the salon.
This venture out is nothing like grocery shopping where I can get away with yoga pants, a loose top, and face mask. Mall shopping is real shopping. It involves checking out and judging fellow shoppers’ fashion choices. It means browsing the merchandise and pretending I can actually afford to drop the equivalent cost of a month’s groceries on that silk Equipment blouse ( I cannot). I have to remember to employ my old protocols; scope out every single item in the store before actually making a purchase. In fact, if I can go home and think about it first, I might not make the purchase at all and spend the money on wine instead. The prospects are dizzying.
When I mentioned to my husband that I planned to hit the newly opened Nordstrom store for a browse, he made a sideways comment about me needing another white blouse. (As any gal knows and as evidenced by my own closet, you can never have too many.) And this from a guy who has seventy-two golf shirts. It’s a much more complicated issue than needing a new lipstick, white blouse, or pair of shoes. It’s about freedom—finally. At least a degree of it. I can finally put on normal clothes, makeup, jewelry, and proper girly shoes. I’m me again. Except for lipstick and blusher as they rub off on face masks and no one can see you smile anyway.
Start the car! Start the car!
Nordstrom is in fact my favourite retail store and I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible if they went bankrupt so it’s important to do my bit to keep them afloat. I was there shortly after the doors opened at 11:00 a.m. and was greeted by a friendly mask-wearing employee overseeing a hand sanitizing station. As I took careful steps into the vast cavern of retail delights I felt like Dorothy entering the world of Oz. But, there were noticeable changes along the yellow brick road:
- Many of the display cases were empty. Nordstrom always has a lovely assortment of costume jewelry and there were many pieces available on display tables but the cases of watches and fine jewelry were noticeably empty of inventory.
- The shoe and purse departments were similarly ‘lean’. Aisle tables featured the latest merchandise including a display of high-end Valentino rock stud shoes but the wall shelves were almost bare.
- I inquired about a Charlotte Tilbury lipstick I had my eye on B.C. (Before COVID) but not being able to touch and sample the product meant I’ll postpone purchasing until the world returns to normal. It’s not like I don’t have any other lipsticks! The sales associate was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about the product even though she came over from another counter.
- Riding the escalator to the second-floor fashion department (without touching handrails, of course), I eagerly anticipated having sales associates falling all over me to show off their wares. Nordstrom is known for having lots of great personnel to help (unlike Hudson’s Bay Co.) and they were in evidence dusting displays and moving things around to look busy. There were a few shoppers, not quite as many as normal, but still a good showing.
- The fashion floor was a sale-seeker’s dream. Nearly every single item was on sale, some at drastic reductions. They were obviously clearing out winter merchandise and tempting us with a few spring and summer items, but pickings were not what they would normally be at this time of year.
- Fashion merchandise resembled a giant clearance sale. Entire sections of the store were empty and contained empty display racks. It looked like they were going out of business.
I did see a nice Alice + Olivia blouse I liked that was on sale, but who in the world can actually fit into an XS? Not this old boomer. I photographed it so I could check online when I got home. Sadly, their café was not open. I’d been hoping I could enjoy a nice lunch there but it was not to be.
When I walked back to my car I noticed quite a few cars outside Saks so I figured they might be open too. And, they were. It was a similar situation to my experience in Nordstrom. The atmosphere was quiet and a bit desperate. On the second-floor fashion section, the sales were amazing. There were a lot of beautiful winter things they were flogging at 70% off but not too much to choose from in the spring and summer line. I expect they probably canceled a lot of orders to manufacturers but it was, once again, a picker’s dream. I actually managed to score the Alice + Olivia blouse marked down 75%—in my size. Joy to the world.
Pusateri’s food department on the lower level was strictly cordoned off in sections with no seating for customers to have lunch or a cup of tea but grocery shopping was allowed so I picked up some sushi to bring home for lunch. I was tempted to buy some Mary Macleod’s shortbread which is the best ever, but I restrained myself when I thought about the numbers appearing on my bathroom scale every morning. I’m usually not so disciplined.
When I returned from my little retail reconnaissance mission, I didn’t have the usual feeling of satisfaction I get when I’ve spent the better part of a day browsing various stores and enjoying a lunch out. It was great to do something we haven’t been able to do for nearly three months now, but doing it encumbered by a mask and constantly sanitizing my hands definitely diminishes the enjoyment.
The sales associates were exceptionally friendly. I’m sure they were happy to be back to work and having personal exchanges with people other than those they live with. But, my shopping experience was like a chocolate sundae without the Spanish peanuts on top. I didn’t get quite the buzz I normally do. With all the restrictions and the clearinghouse atmosphere, it was not entirely as pleasurable as it could have been. I even missed being able to smile at other shoppers and perhaps exchange a word or two.
I sympathize with retailers trying to survive this pandemic. It’ll be a miracle for those who survive. My excursion served to reinforce my commitment to online shopping for comparative pricing and selection. Another blow for brick and mortar stores. But, nothing beats trying things on, getting inspired by new and colourful fashion, experimenting with new makeup in the cosmetics department, and, of course, meeting a friend afterward for lunch. My little excursion did satisfy that itch. I really do miss the world as it was though. Have you ventured out beyond the grocery store lately? What did you see?