It was sad to walk into Dean & DeLuca this past week, seeing the empty shelves and signs indicating an impending shutdown. As pondered why in the world I felt an acute sense of loss over a random retail brand shutting down, I started to think about neighborhood retail as a sort of secondary social circle.
We all likely have places we associate with specific habits, friends, situations or emotions. After having worked in Soho for well over a decade, Dean & DeLuca became a friend I relied on in many situations. During the Holidays I loved the vibe of tourists and locals searching out that perfect gift for a loved one. In the summers I loved a basil chicken salad they made and which I have tried in vein to replicate numerous times. More often than I’d care to admit, I’d reward myself after some small success with one of their dangerously good ginger cookies. Walking through the largely empty store brought back many of those memories. Dean & DeLuca was a hub of activity in Soho and I will miss it, insanely overpriced produce and all.
Last year I had found myself feeling a similar “loss” over the Brooks Brothers in Batter Park closing. That Brooks Brothers store played a small but meaningful role in my life. The first suit I was able to afford on my own was purchased there and I still remember how the staff made me feel like a rockstar as I made what was a huge purchase for me at that time. That particular store also played an amazing role (and here) during 9/11. It was a downtown shopping staple for many of my friends as well as generations of bankers, lawyers and other suit wearing workers below 14th street. I could go on with a list of brands and places that play a regular role in my life: from the card store I count on for the perfect birthday or wedding cards, to my gym (I have had three CrossFit locations close on me), to several local (non-chain) coffee shops where the baristas know my name.
Clearly many will read this and laugh at some New Yorker’s ‘sadness’ over a luxury grocery store and men’s clothing store shuttering. But in New York City —- and probably most other cities and towns — physical place and brand play a significant and perhaps under-appreciated role in our lives. Progress insures the only true constant is change, but I personally hope that the death of retail doesn’t lead to many more of my friends suffering similar fates.