I’m in Boston for my favorite: annual medical appointments and some last-minute Christmas shopping. The medical appointments went very well. The shopping, not so much. After a couple years of Covid lockdown, it feels like shopping here is caught in limbo somewhere between what was and what will be.
Buyers and sellers are occupying worlds that are poles apart. The Prudential Center is less a shopping bazaar than a place for nannies to sip lattes and rock baby carriages out of the frigid wind. During lunch, the halls fill with office workers off to grab lunch at Sweetgreen or power walk to close some rings on their Apple watches. By two o’clock, it’s quiet again, with only occasional shoppers passing slowly by Christmas windows. Burgeoning bags of presents that in the past would have weighed them down are missing, as are many of the stores that once lined the granite walkways.
Some of the store spaces have been transformed into Wellness boutiques with no apparent purpose. They’re empty of any humans. But so are the stores. Bored clerks drape themselves over the counter, looking surreptitiously at their phones to pass the time. Not surprisingly, the Peloton store is a ghost town during the three days I’m there. The Nepresso store sells more cups of coffee than coffee makers. A petite clerk tries to pass out thick, almond filled samples of chocolate bark at Laderach. She has few takers. Eataly, which used to be sardine packed with avid customers displays focaccia sandwiches and Italian delicacies to few takers.
The Prudential Center is a one stop shopping area if you’re going skiing without a budget. Apparently, no one is. Oakley, Montcler and Mackage sit waiting for it to snow. It’s hard to sell sunglasses when the little clock face on the door says “Out to Lunch.”
Poor Saks. Every other rack has the 60% percent off sign towering over yards of clothes they bought in anticipation of customers returning to retail and upgrading their wardrobes. Neither assumption has yet been proved out. Hours are 11 to 7 so they only need to staff for one eight-hour shift. The staff here is very busy folding and refolding their wares. Far too busy or depressed to talk to the very occasional shopper.
What sells? Lululemon, packed as usual. Now with casual slacks for women and machine washable blazers for men. This is where the Gens (X/Y/Z) shop and soon, the rest of us. Canada Goose is doing a land office business selling very expensive, very warm down coats. Wind chill today is 14 degrees, so that makes sense. Dunkin' Donuts has a line out the door and Paper Source is serving the last people who still send Christmas cards.
Walk on from the Prudential Center to the Copley Place mall and you find Boston’s version of Rodeo Drive. The storefronts are glittering and so are the prices. Sparkle thrives here. Christian Louboutin stud-encrusted sneakers for men, red-soled spike heeled sandals for women. Shoes as deadly weapons. A much-enlarged Dior store selling black lace boots to men and women of any gender. Carolina Herrara, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tods, Balenciaga, Fendi, Tiffany—all the A-list names. The Tourneau Watch store sits empty, still offering analog watches to a digital world.
Louis Vuitton has real buyers, but they’re the only one. It’s possible to walk from Tiffany’s to Neiman Marcus and not pass another person except black-suited security guards. Neiman Marcus, out of bankruptcy looks just like Saks—but only 50% off. Why they reopened and who gave them credit is a mystery. The Saks Men’s Store is here now in the old Barney’s spot. A few women wander through, searching aimlessly for a gift. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any men shopping. I guess they’re at Lululemon.
I’m done with my shopping. Robin and I are off to photograph wolves in the Lamar Valley at Yellowstone in early January. The Louboutin spike heels were cute but impractical since I’ll be wearing heated socks the whole trip. I’m packing boarding pants, long underwear, heated socks and mittens, multiple warm hats, a flannel nightgown and my Canada Goose long down coat which I did break down and buy. Someone’s got to keep the stores open.