I've had a little secret for a long time. My mother gave it to me when I was in high school. Betty Groth did not like to pay full price and, consequently, nor do I. She was a bargainer and she knew a good deal when she found one. She liked good quality for a reasonable price. And she took a particular thrill when she compared what she paid for an item to the price for that item at another store. She knew where to shop when she wanted or needed to update her wardrobe. First, she subscribed to Vogue Magazine, and read that thing cover to cover. She followed styles, avoided trends, and always dressed conservatively but with a bit of flair all her own. She had style. She would go to Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue and walk through the stores pricing items that she got her attention or that she'd seen in Vogue. Then, she'd go to Loehmann's and head to the Back Room.
If you're not familiar with Loehmann's, the store is a discounted designer clothing store, which Frieda Loehmann started way back in 1921 in Brooklyn, NY. And last Thursday, all Loehmann's stores in the country started liquidation sales because they are going out of business. Bankruptcy, weak internet presence, stiff competition, blahblahblah. The news hit me hard.
For the longest time, there was just one Loehmann's in Houston. It was across town but worth the drive. My mother began taking me there when I was beginning high school. At first I hated it. You see, Loehmann's has one dressing room. One big room, lined with mirrors and hooks. You tried on clothes after taking your clothes off in front of everyone. The horror for my teenage privacy needs! At least Mom was in another dressing room. The Back Room, where the high end designer clothes were kept and where you just hung up your items on a peg and stripped down right there among the racks of clothes, was where Mom found her best bargains. It was separated from the rest of the store by thick blue floor-to-ceiling curtains. For a while, I was too young to go back there. Such a mystery it was! Until, at least, she made friends with a sales woman back there who made an exception as long as I stayed with my mother. You'd think I was five.
When Loehmann's opened a second Houston location, they did so right at the freeway exit one would take to get to our house. I remember how excited my mother and I were. By then, I was out and on my own but we'd still go there together and she'd still head to the Back Room where prices were prohibitive for me but still a great deal for her. This location did not have curtains blocking the Back Room, nor did it have a separate dressing room. I can still hear her calling me over to ask my opinion of a dress or a suit. I have many memories of she and I in Loehmann's.
The dress my mother wore to the inauguration of George Bush was a dress she bought at Loehmann's. That was a great day we shared.
I shop at Loehmann's regularly, most recently over Christmas where I got a load of clothes for my nephew for not a load of money. (Their men's department is quite small but good.) Because my mother shopped there for so many years, she earned the Black Diamond membership, which translated to 10% off purchase total, including sales. The membership number is our old home phone number. I've enjoyed that 10% discount for years.
I'm going to stop in the original Houston store this weekend, just to take a stroll through the racks of clothes, to remember the years of shared shopping with my mother. Years where she taught me about good fit, good quality and good prices. I will miss Loehmann's, miss walking into the store and remembering my mother, miss saying our old phone number out loud. I'll also miss the great deals that I would get there. But, most of all, I will miss experiencing what my mother gave me long ago.