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.
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.
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.
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…