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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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I’ve always been a committed bargain shopper. I love finding the twice-reduced item or the slightly damaged piece of goods that the store manager will knock down to half-price. Part of the pleasure I get is in saving money. But as any discount shopper knows, there are other, more subtle and more philosophical pleasures involved.

Reverse snobbism is one — to boast about how little one spent on something when others like to boast about how much. A swipe at capitalism is another — diverting profits from the coffers of rapacious moguls. But most of all, I am motivated by the pleasure of the hunt: sifting through racks of undistinguished merchandise for something that has escaped the tar brush of cheapness and shoddiness; glimpsing the elegance of a garment underneath the deforming overlay of smocking, ruffles, and bows. If shopping is a sport that requires stamina and practice, it is… More…

Last summer I got a ticket for riding mass transit one stop outside of Fareless Square without fare. I went to court hoping to use the “I was wearing my iPod and didn’t hear the announcement” defense, but when I came before the judge he was pissed at the big group of defendants, and he just scolded us and gave us the choice of paying a $90 fine or doing eight hours of community service. Someone had carved “This judge is a fucker” into the bench I stood by, and that made the scolding bearable. I was also glad the fucker was offering us the eight hours of community service, because I didn’t have $90.

When I got to the used clothing store I’d been assigned, the manager was already exhausted with me. She told me not to hide, and that she could tell “when you guys try to hide.”… More…