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News out that Henri Bendel, that most elegant, nose-in-the-air store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan will, following the lead of its dowdier but still elegant sister, Lord & Taylor, be shutting its doors this week. These venerable palaces of consumption have been on walkers for awhile — though in my last trip to Manhattan Lord & Taylor was still playing the Star-Spangled Banner as it has each morning since the 1980 hostage crisis, before letting the kitten-heeled and Lululemon-clad hordes maraud through its aisles. All things must come to an end, but this has been a particularly slow and mannerly demise. I mourned the death of the department store over ten years ago in these pages:

More… “Bidding Farewell to Henri Bendel”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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To praise shopping is to breach the last taboo of academic culture. It’s fine to admit to a taste for absinthe, a minor drug habit, or a proclivity for S&M. Such things can qualify as chic in rarified intellectual circles. But a willingness to spend an afternoon at the mall? Forget about it.

The snobbism that scorns shopping is, like all snobbism, hypocritical and selective. It makes exceptions for high-end kitchenware, first editions, sushi-grade tuna, and Rosewood pottery. Trips to Tuscany for leather goods and Paris for Louboutin shoes are permissible. But trolling for a tank top in The Limited or rifling through the racks of Ross Dress for Less are as verboten as reading a Jackie Collins novel or eating iceberg lettuce.

My intention is to blow the cover on this sort of thinking. Shopping is shopping. There are cut-rate treasures to be found in the strip malls of… More…