Question about old clothing and department stores


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  1. #1

    Question about old clothing and department stores

    I'm in my 50s and I was explaining to someone in her 20s the other day how old style clothing and department stores used to keep only a small portion of their merchandise on the sales floor, and that most of their stock would be back in the stock room and you'd have to ask a sales clerk to go out back and see if they had a particular item in your desired size, color, etc.

    She looked at me like I was an idiot and asked why the heck would a store not put as much stock as possible "out there" for customers to buy, and I was sorta stunned that I didn't have a good answer for her.

    Does anyone have a good answer, or is my memory of the old days not entirely accurate? More recently, I definitely remember that stores like Service Merchandise used to have only one of a particular item on display, and if you wanted to buy it you'd have to go to a computer kiosk within the store, enter the item number, proceed to the "pick up" area and wait for employee to bring you a boxed version of that item from the storeroom. Again, what was the idea behind that? Decreased theft, perhaps?

  2. #2
    I vaguely remember that setup at Service Merchandise. You'd buy something, then it would come out on a conveyor belt.

    Not sure what the thought process was. Maybe they were trying to be efficient? Showcase what you had, warehouse the rest?
    "I like homemade food. I just do."

  3. #3
    thetrailboss's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    NEK by Birth; Alta/Snowbird by Choice
    OMG Service Merchandise! There is a blast from the past!


    Live, Ski, or Die!

  4. #4
    Service merchandise was my first credit card. Lol

    Sent from my XT1565 using AlpineZone mobile app

  5. #5
    Edd's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Newmarket, NH
    I never would have thought about that place again. Wow.

    Sent from my iPhone using AlpineZone

  6. #6
    SkiFanE's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    New England
    Yup - Service merchandise - remember buying a crock pot there, setting it up with a roast before work, got home and the thing was broken and I had to toss roast. They wouldn't reimburse me for roast lol.

    Anyone remember the original Lechmere in Cambridge? Blinking 88? I think they had similar setup with conveyor belt. Every time I go by Rt38 exit on 93S I still think of all those trips I'd take with my dad there - coming from the burbs.

    Today I noticed the Good Housekeeping seal on soy sauce and was shocked it was still a "thing". Anyone even know what that means?

  7. #7
    I remember Lechemere! I was on college in the mid 90's and one of the kids from Long Island asked "What the heck is lek-mer(h)?"
    "I like homemade food. I just do."

  8. #8
    Part of what you are referring to is what I used to call Catalog Showroom Stores. In my area (Wash DC) we had Service Merchandise, but we also had a smaller chain called Bell Company (now defunct), and I want to say early Best Buy stores were set up like this too. I have the same memories as you. These catalog showroom stores mostly sold electronics, stereos/music, small appliances, jewelry, cameras, sporting goods, and various other hard-goods. They'd have samples of their merchandise on display, but to buy something you'd fill out a form and turn it into a clerk, then they would bring a boxed version of it to a register for you to buy and take home. I guess IKEA still operates like this. The economies of this approach would seem to be lower labor costs due to reduced need for sales people, and more efficient stocking and packaging methods. IIRC, Best Buy moved away from that catalog approach to its big box store format about 25 years ago because people still want to grab their item right off the shelf and cart it away.

    The other thing you seem to be referring to is department stores like Macy's, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, and similar like Sears and Penney's where clothing is a big part of the merchandizing. The modern version of these department stores carry lots of stock right on their shelves for customers to see, touch, and buy. But it's true that sometimes if you can't find your size out on the floor a clerk can find you another jacket, shoes, food processor, or whatever from a stockroom in the back of the store. I'm just a dumb guy and not a big retail shopper, but I was recently in a fancier current department store (Neiman Marcus) and they still don't have too many versions of a garment hanging on the rack, so it makes sense that if they were out of your size or color, you might have success if you asked if they had more in the back room??

    My wife worked in two different department stores for a few years back around 1980. I'll ask her about this

  9. #9
    bigbog's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Bangor and the state's woodlands
    I remember picking up various things over at Lechmere....back in the early 80s


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