For the Love of Loehmann’s

January 16, 2014
BY Simone Ellin
Area women mourn the closing of longtime retailer
For many longtime customers, the closing of Loehmann’s was very emotional. “I don’t know where I’ll shop now,” said Michelle Hall. “I want to lie on the floor and cry.” (David Stuck)

For many longtime customers, the closing of Loehmann’s was very emotional. “I don’t know where I’ll shop now,” said Michelle Hall. “I want to lie on the floor and cry.” (David Stuck)

On the afternoon of Jan. 9, the parking lot at Loehmann’s in Timonium was busier than usual. When the 93-year-old retail establishment announced its bankruptcy and plans to close its remaining 39 locations in 11 states by March 31, droves of the store’s faithful customers rushed to the discount designer fashion haven to grab some last-minute bargains and to pay their respects to an American — and Jewish — institution that for many shoppers represented much more than getting a great deal.

Founded by Frieda Loehmann, a fashion buyer who used her know-ledge and personal connections in the garment industry to start the store in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1921, Loehmann’s was incorporated in 1930 by her son, Charles, when he opened the company’s second location in the Bronx. The store went public after Frieda Loehmann’s death in 1962, and Charles Loehmann then began a major expansion of the business.

In its heyday, Loehmann’s owned 100 stores across the country, but the retailer had struggled financially for decades. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on two prior occasions, in 1998 and 2010.

In the later part of the 20th century, stores such as Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx and Annie Sez among others offered women opportunities to buy designer clothes at reduced prices, but according to Loehmann’s owners, SB Capital Group, LLC, Tiger Capital Group, LLC and A&G Realty Partners, their property did it first.

One feature exclusive to Loehmann’s was its “back room,” the separate area in each store that sold the more upscale fashions of high-end European and American designers. The store was also known for its communal dressing rooms, where women felt free to dispense fashion advice even if they didn’t know each other.

For Greengate resident Naomi Amsterdam, who said her age was “plenty-six,” the closing of Loehmann’s was a tremendous loss. Standing in the “back room” on that Thursday afternoon, Amsterdam called being at Loehmann’s for its closing sale a “shopping shiva.” She recounted calling her husband earlier in the day.

“I have to go to Seven Mile Market, but my car won’t drive there,” she told him. “I have to hold firmly to the steering wheel, because it wants me to drive to Loehmann’s instead.”

“This was my go-to store,” said Amsterdam. “I raised my kids in those dressing rooms. The minute I heard [the store was closing] I texted both my girls — they’re grown now — and wrote in capital letters: Loehmann’s is closing! Both of them called right back.”

For Delores Rhody of Pikesville, the store’s closing was also very emotional.

“You don’t want to see my tears. It’s very sad. It’s been a landmark,” said Rhody, who noted that she had originally shopped at the New York stores. “It’s a wonderful store. I was hoping someone would buy it. I guess two seasons of a bad economy did it in.”

Michelle Hall of Lutherville, who was “over 56” years old, declared she was “devastated and in shock. I knew they were having problems, but to lose a store like this? I have shopped at Loehmann’s in New York, New Jersey, L.A., San Francisco and Atlanta. I am a loyal, loyal customer. I don’t know where I’ll shop now. I want to lie on the floor and cry, but I’m afraid my picture will show up on Facebook.”

“Whenever there was a simcha, we would come here first,” Amsterdam said. “[Just like] when the kids had a bar and bat mitzvah or we had to go to a wedding or to the opera.”

“I guess this must be how our grandmothers felt when Hutzler’s closed,” she continued, referring to Baltimore’s bygone department store. “Loehmann’s dressed us from head to toe. It’s part of who we are as Jewish women.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

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