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Depart-mental Illness

When it comes to shopping, what is in a name?





I saw a buddy of mine in a coffee shop and asked him if he could believe all the hysteria over Kaufmann's department stores being purchased by another corporation. He was in a hurry, but took the time to sit down in one of those giant brown comfy Starbucks chairs and give me a well-intentioned lecture.



He suggested I was playing with fire by having a flippant attitude about Kaufmann's. Apparently, the place means more than God to some area residents. My friend went over some history of the noble Kaufmann family, and the wonder and joy of seeing media personalities broadcasting from the windows at Christmas, with the incredible holiday displays in the windows nearby. He explained that Pittsburghers love to hang on to their traditions and are reluctant to let go, ever.


It's easy for an otta tonner like me (I moved here in '96) to blithely dismiss all of this. I didn't get my first fearless flyer sled at Kaufmann's. I wasn't ushered into the multilevel Downtown store as a child, when the wonderment of so much stuff in one place might have been overwhelmingly intoxicating.


Nonetheless, I beg of you Mr. and Mrs. Pikksburgh ... get over it. It's a freaking department store. It's a big building with stuff in it, and you can get any or all of that stuff elsewhere. Now it will be a big building owned by Federated Department stores instead of the May Company.


Federated might change the name of the store? Omigawwwwd!? How could we go buy stuff in a store that had a different name on it? The sheer callousness of man's inhumanity to man.


And the flagship store Downtown, the one filled with so many memories, is the dumpiest damn excuse for a department store I've ever seen. Mausoleums have more energy.


I visited the Downtown Kaufmann's on a Thursday at around 5 p.m. Maybe this isn't shopping prime time. Maybe that's why I was one of the few humans wandering around all six floors (or is it more?) of stuff.  But it was one spooky-ass place, let me tell you.


I could feel the ghosts of Pittsburghers past haunting me, taunting me, flaunting their daunting spirits that threatened to make me stay forever. "You Belong to Me" by Carly Simon oozed eerily from the transistor-radio-like sound system. It was them, I tell you, threatening to entomb me right then and there.


I was pretty sure I might be entombed when I walked in and the ceiling was barely above my head. The old-fashioned, dismally drab fluorescent lighting was a nice touch, if you like light that matches the Pittsburgh sky most days.


The escalators are so old they sound like ancient freight trains pulling out of the station that never really get up to speed.  There was a shoeshine guy, a clear sign that it was 1957 all over again. There was the Tic Toc restaurant, which I suspect serves the kind of cuisine that accelerates your own body clock until it's terminal time, baby. Sure I could have sampled it to confirm my suspicions, but what if the food is how the ghosts penetrate your being?


Those who've already been possessed all have the same laments. Kaufmann's is more than a department store. The Kaufmann family gave us Frank Lloyd Wright and Fallingwater. Kaufmann's sponsors The Nutcracker and Light-Up Night.


I'm glad Kaufmann's was nice enough to fund holiday plays and celebrations.  But I'm sure we can extort some corporate cash from the new owner, Federated. So far as I know, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater isn't going anywhere.


Again, I beseech thee, Mr. and Mrs. Pikksburgh, things are changing ... get used to it. The population of the city has been cut in half. The Pirates don't win. The Penguins don't play. The Stillers can't win the big one.  The mayor's office is a joke.  And the local Democratic Party has elected a convicted bribe-taker as its vice-president. OK, some things never change, but you've got to come to grips with the fact that it's a very different yinzerverse, and the clock keeps ticking. Tic Toc.

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