Harzfeld's Downtown: Birthplace of a retail revolution
Recent examples of impatience (my own and others) gave me a moment to consider something that really needs to be discussed: Our “fast food” society, if you will. A generation steeped in the philosophy of “I want it now, and---in point of fact---I would prefer for it to have been done yesterday, thank you very much!”
Try to imagine America a century ago with this example: In Kansas City, fine couturiers had their esteemed customers perch themselves on Queen Anne benches, sipping tea and nibbling scones. Models clad in the latest creations from Paris would parade by, while anxious sales ladies assessed the reactions from milady. When a positive response was garnered, the tailors would gently verify the measurements (if they weren’t already on file and hadn’t changed). When the tailors were finished, Madame would be notified and the transaction would be completed.
Siegmund Harzfeld founded The Parisienne Hat and Cloak Company with that principle in mind, along with many another clothier. But a trip back East would have him unleash a revolution on the Midwest: Ready-To-Wear. The models were dismissed, racks were placed on the floors, tailors were now dispatched to go ahead and make several examples of a fashion in various sizes to stock those racks, and customers could only use those Queen Anne benches to rest themselves in the middle of a shopping spree. Clothes were now available quicker, with the compromise being that any physical eccentricities were now being overlooked in favour of the convenience being provided. And Sigmund, satisfied that this was an improvement that impacted the retail world here in a very grand manner, changed the name of the store to Harzfeld’s Parisienne, then later simply Harzfeld’s. Few would argue that he earned the right to that bit of vanity.
Still and all, long after other stores had gone to computerized “Point Of Sale” transactions, the venerable house of green and white stripes continued having sales associates write up the sales on books with carbon paper. True, the associates in delivery/receiving were running the tickets later on an NCR unit, but it was still a charming example of old-world attention to customers before self. The big corporations who bought it out over the years came to view this with great contempt, and in the summer of 1984 would pull the rug out from underneath everybody by 86’ing their corporate support. They knew that Harzfeld’s could no longer survive without that support, but the memory of that precious retail specimen is kept alive by the naming of a downtown office building after the man who proved gutsier than even the most rebellious of retailers.
In summation: There was a time when taking one’s time paid handsome rewards. Blame it on technology, increasing world population, global warming, whatever---but nobody has the time these days to wait for a finely-crafted response to anything. And we are a sadder race for it.