Reflections on a New York City Christmas

WashingtonSquare Park - Christmas 2012

I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find. When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical.

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Man on the Moon – Windy City Dreamin’ 1969 Flashback Ads

While cleaning out my parent’s basement, I discovered a bunch of old newspaper clips from the Apollo 11 moon landing, dated July 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1969. The clips themselves are intriguing, although essentially worthless from a monetary standpoint. I actually found myself more fascinated by the ads. I have highlighted a few of the business of yesteryear that once upon a time graced the Windy City. Although I have blogged about other defunct Chi-Town shops, this article only features retail stores for which I found ads – a subsequent article will cover a few cultural venues unearthed in these clips. Benson-Rixon Benson-Rixon men’s store had multiple locations, including the flagship location at 230 South State Street – now home to a McDonalds on the ground level. This is not a store that my dad frequented – he was a Brooks Brothers guy through and through! This store has a fascinating history – in the ad it is called Benson-Rixon, but other references refer to the store as Benson & Rixon. Hans A. Rixon, born in 1864, the son of a German manufacturer of woolen goods, immigrated to Chicago with his family. In 1886, he started clerking for Charles Rixon at 701 Milwaukee Avenue and served as the store’s general manager. In 1890, he opened his own gent’s clothing shop at 851 North Avenue, continuing this business until 1895. He then combined his business with Mr. Rixon’s business, moving to 1730 Milwaukee Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Rixon became a partner and vice president of the Benson-Rixon store, originally established by Paul J. Benson and Albert Rixon in 1889. According to an excerpt from the History of Cook County, Illinois, by 1909, the gentlemen owned three stores. 

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Goodwill Hunting Uncovers Bad Will Greed

Back in March, when I ventured into my local Goodwill store, I was astonished to see a crappy, framed reproduction of some lesser Impressionist painter on very cheap, warped cardboard for $199.99. What made this even more egregious is that the back of this monstrosity still bore the $4.00 garage sale price tag – and even at that price, nobody wanted this piece of junk. This prompted the following letter sent to Goodwill Corporate. The name of the store manager has been removed to protect the innocent – but not sure if that is her or me! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  3/22/13 Letter My mouth is still agape from my visit today to this retail store: Goodwill Store & Donation Center 900 W. Algonquin Road Arlington Heights, IL 60005 (847) 870-7897 I have been frequenting this store since it opened and have noticed that the prices are going up constantly. The prices now are higher than at any antique store for pieces that aren’t worth more than a few dollars. I saw a cheap reproduction of a painting on crappy cardboard (framed) for $199.99. When I brought this to the attention of the floor manager, I mentioned that I have expertise in antiques and collectibles and they could sure use somebody with my expertise to price things more accurately. She said we don’t hire people with expertise to price items and my manager thought this was real. I replied, ” Well I understand you don’t hire people specifically to do that, but wouldn’t it be helpful to have somebody on board with that knowledge?” The fake painting was SO obviously cheaply printed on inexpensive paper and the garage sale price of $4.00 was still marked in very large letters on the back – $199.99 – good grief!!!!! Yes, I agree that Goodwill is…

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Antique Estate Auction Offers Intriguing Glimpse into The Mind of The Collector

Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.

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There Must be Gold in Dem Der Hills – or Dat Sparrow’s Nest

I have been meaning to write about this particular thrift store in Palatine for a long time. Sparrow’s Nest embodies what we detest about some so-called charity thrift stores – perhaps more than any other shop we have blogged about – GREED. Everything Jeff grouched about in the opening salvo on this subject (back in October 2011) can be found here and then some. As I look around the Palatine shop, I am left to ponder if there is gold hidden inside some pretty unremarkable, and often shabby merchandise – what else could justify these prices? The parent organization Home of the Sparrow, helps victims of domestic violence – in this case, homeless women and their children in McHenry County and Northern Illinois. That is a very commendable cause that would be better served by thrift stores with fairly priced merchandise. Home of the Sparrow runs five resale shops – in Algonquin, Cary, McHenry, Palatine, and Woodstock. While I have never been to the Algonquin, McHenry or Woodstock locations, I have to say that the Cary store is not nearly as guilty of price-gouging as the Palatine store.

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CVS Pharmacies Not All Created Equal – Some Give New Meaning to the CVS Acronym

When CVS Pharmacy first opened in metro Chicago, I was impressed with the selection and prices. They were certainly competitive with Walgreens and Jewel-Osco, but in the last few years this chain has slid downhill at a rapid pace. Of course some locations are better than others – I went to the Palatine store today and it is vast and well stocked compared to the locations I normally frequent. Unfortunately the two closest to my home should be renamed CVS: Consumer Valueless Shops. But in general, not only are some of CVS prices out of sight compared to other discount stores, but the selection is meager. And even worse, the clerks are often incompetent and rude. That old adage I used in my recent Deals blog, when a deal is not a deal – certainly rings true here.

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Off the Beaten Path – This Shop is a Thrift Lovers’ Treasure Trove

One of the reasons we love going to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few times a year is not to buy cheese, but to browse a wonderful little shop crammed with treasures called Monica’s Thrift Shop. A bit off the beaten path, this unassuming store is loaded from floor to ceiling with an amazing array of new, vintage, and antique goodies with something for everyone’s taste. Our most recent visit was on May 29 and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I would say that there was more merchandise packed into this place than the last time we stopped by. Even the bathroom at this shop is decked out with incredibly cool items.

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When a Deal is Not a Deal – Buyer Beware

I am a sucker for a good deal – I use the word sucker because time and time again I think I am scoring a bargain when in reality I’m buying stuff I don’t need. I am a member of Groupon, Restaurant.com, DoubleTake Deals, Saveology, LivingSocial … and up until a few days ago – KGB Deals. I have dabbled on member-only shopping sites such as Beyond the Rack, Open Sky, NoMoreRack, and HauteLook to name a few, but dropped this habit when I lost my full-time job last June. In addition, these sites are frustrating because they tend to sell out in the first 45 seconds of the sale and rarely have my size. If you take a peek in my wallet you will find preferred cards from stores like Jewel-Osco, CVS Pharmacy, Dominick’s, etc. And I am a proud longstanding member of MyPoints, which is one of the best programs on the Internet. Internet Deal Sites Let’s start with my recent experience with KGB Deals. I bought a KGB Deals voucher for $10.50 for a $35.00 no-chip manicure at Salon 62. I started calling the salon in April to make an appointment since my voucher was going to expire on May 12. No answer during business hours for weeks on end, which I found odd. I left a message on their answering machine and nobody called me back. I decided to drive over there one day, again during business hours, only to find it dark with undelivered mail slips on the door. So I reported this to KGB Deals and they waited until May 11 to get back to me. Apparently there was some family emergency that shut down the business. When I called, Anna was rather snarky and wouldn’t bend on extending the life of the voucher. I was left with no choice but to change…

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Pier 1 Imports Joins the Ranks of Kitschy Objet D’Arts Retailers

This is not the Pier 1 Imports of my youth – that was a store with intriguing, inexpensive knick-knacks from foreign lands and eclectic candy and snacks to boot. Today, the Cost Plus World Market is somewhat reminiscent of the Pier 1 of my childhood – great food section and a lot of cool knick knacks that won’t break the bank. I fondly remember shopping at a Pier 1 that was across the street from my elementary school – now the site of the Lincolnwood Public Library. I would pick up Botan rice candy and other little things for a total tab of a dollar or less – my mom never guessed that on occasion I saved my lunch money to treat myself to these delights. The Pier 1 Imports of today is not inexpensive and many of  the housewares resemble the tacky wonders sold at Hobby Lobby. In December 2010 I received a surprisingly ugly holiday gift from an ex-colleague that I returned to Pier 1 for a merchandise credit. More than a year later, I decided to trade in this credit for some goodies – there is no longer a store near me, but I discovered one close to my parent’s house in the Village Crossing shopping mall. Well, Jeff and I were hard-pressed to find anything that tickled our fancy. There was a beautiful, heavily textured colorful rug from South America reduced from $49.99 to $34.99 – still way too expensive for a 16 x 20-inch throw rug. And I fear that our cat Pepper would have wreaked havoc on it anyway with her back claws.

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Who Buys This Anyway – an Astounding Array of Belched Out Objet D’Arts

I frequent Hobby Lobby for its respectable selection of arts and crafts supplies – and always take advantage of the 40 percent off coupons they offer just about every week. But I have to say that my jaw drops open every time I enter this store. I have never seen such ugly, kitschy, eyeball-rolling home decor and furnishings … or pardon the expression – objet d’arts – in my life! On clearance these faux antiques and what-nots are relatively cheap, but at full price some are pretty darn expensive. All of these pieces are extruded en masse in some factory in China where people earn 5 cents an hour.

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