The last days of Mervyn’s…

Just a couple of days before Christmas, I made the sad, lonely trek to the Burbank mall to visit our once- glorious Mervyn’s department store one last time before they went the way of Mother’s Cookies. And, trust me, sad and lonely doesn’t begin to describe what I found. Seriously, that store was decimated, yo…

Christine and I had trolled the baby sale racks a couple of times recently, but nothing I had seen then could begin to prepare me for the war-torn anchor store I encountered. The few departments that still had merchandise: kids, women’s lingerie and shoes had the oddest size selection you’ve ever seen.

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I kid you not, a drag queen on the market for some giant old lady heels and a khaki pantsuit in a size 20 would have had a field day in that joint. It was insane!

And though the horribly-stained carpets looked like a crime scene and the place had a strange, post-apocalyptic vibe that kind of creeped me out, I couldn’t help remembering the way Mervyn’s looked to me in its prime. Yes, that’s right, amigos, even cheap-ass discount department stores have a heyday.

For me, it was when the Mervyn’s opened at the Capitola Mall in my hometown in the early-80’s. It wasn’t exactly Barney’s or anything, but to a kid used to doing all his back-to-school shopping at Sears — my Dad had a card there, sue me — Mervyn’s was a freaking revelation!

And though I still had — and, ahem, have — a hard time finding pants that fit my husky ass, Mervyn’s had some pretty styling duds back in the day. So when I moved up to San Francisco to go to film school, the Mervyn’s at the Serramonte Shopping Center was my home away from home.

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Seriously, who else would have given a college student instant credit back then? And if you needed new sheets and towels — as we all very often did in soggy San Francisco — Mervyn’s was the place to go, baby. Cheap, basic and colorful, those sheets and towels kicked ass.

High-thread-count snobs like Oprah might disagree, but Mervyn’s was the shit back in the early 90’s, and when we moved to Burbank, man, we kept that joint in business. Sadly, Mervyn’s historic run as a cheap chic mecca came to an end a few years later with the proliferation of Target.

Ironically, Target owned and ran Mervyn’s for years, but once the suits in St. Paul sold the chain to focus on their own stores, Mervyn’s fell hard and never really recovered. Literally overnight, the styles, selections and quality at Mervyn’s went from cheap chic to just plain cheap, and with Target courting bargain-hungry hipsters like never before, it was pretty apparent that “La Mervyn’s” was on their way out.

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But even though we all saw it coming, I gotta tell ya, I was more than a little bummed to step out of that ratty old store for the last time. Yes, it looked like hell (and smelled even worse!) but Mervyn’s was a major retail touchstone for me, so, watching her go the way of Bullocks, Robinsons-May and Buffoms, was totally sad.

On my way out I grabbed a “Store Closing” sign off the floor for a souvenir. And though Christine thinks I’m crazy for hanging it in the garage (which I promptly did!) I know that every time I look at that bright yellow and red sign, I’ll remember the power and the glory that was Mervyn’s California.

RIP old gal, you will be missed…

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The last days of Mervyn’s…

  1. First of all, I hate you for thinking of the perfect blog topic. Man do I wish I thought of it first. But given your decade+ experience in retailing, you’re better suited to write the Mervyn’s eulogy.

    Heck yeah, growing up in the ’80s in Northern California, you couldn’t go clothes shopping without making the obligatory stop at Mervyn’s. Every towel and sheet I had back in the San Francisco State University dorms was from Mervyn’s (I remember their towel and sheet brand was called “Celebration”).

    In fact, as a testament to the legacy and durability of Mervyn’s Celebration towels, we still own some. All our “old towels” that we still use for cleaning up spills and that we used to dry our dog Simon after his bath were Mervyn’s Celebration towels I bought in the mid 1990s (during the store’s brief rebranding as “Mervyn’s California”).

    Mervyn’s was my very first credit card. Ever! It was 1988 and my credit limit was maybe $100, but still, it was the first company that took a chance on my credit. At the advice of finance guru Suze Orman (crossing myself as I say her name), I’ve kept the card alive over the years by using it at least once a year. (One element to keeping a good credit score is to keep your oldest credit card alive).

    Yeah, the quality went down over the years, but I was still in there as recently as two years ago picking up some basics: like “Cambridge Classics” polo shirts and underwear. The stuff was inexpensive, and maybe not the best quality, but who cares? It’s only polo shirts and underwear.

    I’ll definitely miss that place. Here’s to you Mervyn’s! 🙂

  2. P.S. – LOL on the drag queen comment! I was LMAO!

  3. that was beautiful.

    i didn’t fall in love with mervyn’s until they went out of business. i caught the post-apocalyptic scent about a month before they shut down. loaded up several carts with towels, sheets and shoes, at a discount of 60%+.

    now i’m wishing i had purchased just one more set of sheets…

    it was such a gamble, knowing i couldn’t return any of it.

    anyway. i’m one of those cranky aunts at the funeral of over-priced retail who says, “good riddance.”

    but i do appreciate a good eulogy.

    be ready for more eulogies. gottschalk’s? 🙂

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