Not that it was for everybody, but Saks Fifth Avenue's decision to pull out of Charleston in 2011 and leave the Majestic Square building on the southwest corner of King and Market streets was beyond the pale for its loyal clientele, a low blow and emotionally traumatizing for certain distressed ladies in the Holy City. Adding insult to injury, the store that took its place, Forever 21, was a complete mismatch, starting with its name. Because — how do I put this delicately? — those who routinely shopped at Saks were 2-3 times that age, or older.
The Majestic Square building is a big improvement compared to what was there right beforehand (an ugly little bank building set back from the street) and surely has the look and feel of a preeminent retail space. Although the building is new and doesn’t really blend in with the architectural style of some of King Street’s older retail spaces, it’s contemporarily attractive and fills the corner nicely.
Why didn’t Saks perform well at that location? Perhaps local women (and by that I mean those with Charleston or Lowcountry roots) raised by role models who came along during the Depression learned firsthand how to practice lifelong thrifty spending habits — whether they needed to or not — and wouldn’t set foot in the place unless there was at least a 40 percent sale going on. Furthermore, those who could afford to shop there and weren’t so thrifty would probably just as soon have gone to New York for the whole experience.
Tourists visiting Charleston back when may not necessarily have had a top-end shopping experience in mind, but then again Louis Vuitton started up about the same time as Saks and is still catty-corner selling luxury pocketbooks and other items. Maybe that’s because a sturdy pocketbook will last a lifetime or more whereas a dress (depending on whom you ask) is this year’s pleasure but next year’s memory.
At any rate, now comes the stunning news that Forever 21 has fallen victim to its own rapid expansion and changing consumer tastes and has filed for bankruptcy protection. In addition to the store in downtown Charleston, there’s another at Tanger Outlet in North Charleston and still others in Greenville, Columbia, Florence and Myrtle Beach.
As of this writing, 178 stores are expected to be shuttered across the country, including those at Tanger and at Magnolia Mall in Florence, which means the one at Majestic Square will remain open. Of course we all wish nothing but the best for the folks at Forever 21, yet it’s difficult not wondering how another upper tier retailer in the Saks' league might do today at that particular location. In other words, would a Nordstrom or a Neiman be interested in moving to Charleston and would either do well some eight years after Saks left? My feeling is that Charleston is a much different world than it was eight years ago and that either would do well, but then again feelings and business don’t necessarily jibe very well.
Painfully obvious problems
Speaking of Charleston being much different than it was just a short time ago, such was ever-so-plainly (and painfully) obvious late last month from the shores of Lake Lockwood (the western end of Broad Street as it turns into Lockwood Boulevard). The area seems nearly continuously underwater during the now monthly king tide phenomenon) and following an accident at a critical intersection on Johns Island that tied up traffic for nine hours, peninsular, West Ashley, James and Johns Island commuters ended up in gridlock hell. It took one of my nurses 3 3/4 hours to get from our office on James Island to her home on Wadmalaw following a day of work on September 30.
My friend Dana Beach had incisive commentary on the op-ed page a couple of Fridays ago concerning the city’s flooding and traffic problems and how they might be addressed and financed. He’s now involved with the new Lowcountry Livability PAC (LLPAC) which closely examines and endorses City Council candidates that might serve the city very well over the next four years if given that opportunity.
Interestingly, there is no endorsement for mayor, which suggests that LLPAC considers the current mayor not the problem. Anyway, go to www.livabilitypac.org and have a look. In the words of Ric Ocasek, The Cars’ former front man and chief songwriter who went to his reward last month, one concludes that the time is now to “Shake it Up.”