2006_09_lt.jpgThere's a wonderful feature on department store Lord & Taylor by Toni Schlesinger in the Observer today. Earlier in the summer, it was announced that the Lord & Taylor chain had been sold to an investor group including the folks that backed the Time-Warner Center; though the deal isn't finalized yet, when Schlesinger wonders if condos could be built on top of the 424 Fifth Avenue location, lead investor Richard Baker says, "Yes, we could build on top. But we have made no decision what to do with the existing building." And he added, “I’m getting a lot of e-mails: ‘Don’t mess with Lord & Taylor!’”

It'll be intriguing what happens with Lord & Taylor in the future, because it's such an afterthought of a department store. One tends to think about Macy's for most anything (even though it's almost prohibitively crowded), Bloomingdale's for nicer things and Barneys for even nicer things. But Lord & Taylor will never be considered - at least, not amongst our friends. Who shops there, in that huge 600,000 store? Our mothers and grandmothers, it seems. From the article:

[O]ne Wednesday evening Lorna Stevens, 62, with short white hair and comfortable black suede shoes, who has worked for the last 20 years in humanitarian relief and lives in Peter Cooper Village, was staring at the store directory looking for “Intimate Apparel.” She said she has been coming to Lord & Taylor forever. “I was just looking for Jockey shorts for my husband. They have Polo, Ralph Lauren—no Jockey. They used to. I’ve been shopping here my whole life. Barneys, Bergdorf’s? It’s not for me. This is where I go. Before I came here, I went to B. Altman. Here, you can count on being able to get normal clothes for normal people.”

Also shopping was Nora Loke, 58, who lives in Chinatown with her husband, an accountant, and who moved from Hong Kong 20 years ago. “I like the classic clothes—very American,” she said, indicating a Nine West mannequin. “Saks Fifth Avenue? That’s very expensive. An umbrella is $24. Here it’s very quiet, you feel comfortable. Sometimes my husband comes. He sits in a chair and goes to …. ” She put her head down and mimed sleep.

Yeah, the brand is probably in need of a shake-up to attract customers without gray hair - and apparently the store has been making strides in appealing to younger customers (who knew?). But knowing that it's pretty empty is very tempting, as a calm shopping environment is pretty hard to come by.

Do you shop at Lord & Taylor in the city? We used to shop there in the suburbs, but that's because that's the suburbs. Its third store in the city, on Broadway and 20th, is gorgeous. And it was the first department store to move to Fifth Avenue and to name a female president, Dorothy Shaver.