Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas in New York


As kids at Christmastime, one of the Nigro boys’ favorite holiday traditions was a shopping jaunt into the big city with our Aunt Rose. She labored in midtown Manhattan’s storied Garment District for her entire working life, and knew the stitches of the area, if you will, inside and out. It was the 1970s—a colorful, if a bit dirty and coarse, snapshot in time—that found us year after year, on the first or second Saturday in December, riding the then graffiti-laden, and not especially efficient, Number 1 subway train from our Bronx neighborhood into the core of the Big Apple. We exited at 34th Street, Penn Station, directly across the street from the main entrance to Macy’s—the “World’s Largest Department Store.”

We would spend hours in this sprawling, multi-floored retail edifice, particularly fascinated by the store’s famous “Cellar,” which was, and still is, renowned for its alluring aromas of countless succulent edibles, as well as wall-to-wall people and, I should add, predatory prices (some things never change). I don’t recall purchasing all that much at Macy’s. Our aunt choreographed it as a critical stopover, enabling us to soak up, first and foremost, the uniquely festive and incredibly alive Christmas in New York ambiance.

For gift buying on our wee-people budgets, more affordable locales were also on these annual itineraries, including nearby Gimbel’s (a touch cheaper than Macy’s) and, the piece-de-resistance as far as we were concerned, a mega-Woolworth’s store with an extraordinarily diverse wonderland of bargains. Hoping he would take up the hobby of converting his empty beer bottles and pickle jars into flowerpots, fish bowls, and candy dishes, I bought my father a Ronco Bottle and Jar Cutter there. He never warmed to the hobby. And to quote a familiar refrain of his: “Waste! Waste! Waste!” We sometimes did lunch at this, sadly, defunct five-and-dime chain and former retail icon.

Also on Fifth Avenue in the vicinity of Woolworth’s was a not quite as impressive epigone called Kress’s. It was Kress’s food counter that served me a hamburger and French fries platter with a sliced tomato on one of the bun’s halves. The hideously gelatinous appearance of said tomato compelled me to consume my burger with only half a bun. I just couldn’t bring myself to bite down on a tomato-contaminated piece of bread. Half a bun notwithstanding, it was—as I recall—quite delicious. And, yes, I would very likely do the same thing today (some things never change).

The back-end of our Christmas shopping trips called on Korvette’s—yet another department store chain in the ash heap of history—and Brentano’s, an independent bookstore near Rockefeller Center with a winding staircase and wooden banisters. What a unique place that was back then, before the advent of book superstores, which subsequently ran this impressive indie out of business. Seinfeld's George Costanza brought a Brentano's book with him into the bathroom.

Our shopping sprees consummated in the oncoming darkness at the foot of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. And, finally, after passing by Radio City Music Hall, we’d get on the train for home at 50th Street—tired but satisfied. I haven’t been to Macy’s in many, many years. Gimbel’s, Woolworth’s, Kress’s, Korvette’s, and Brentano’s are all gone with the winds of time. I don’t even make it a point to see the tree at Rockefeller Center anymore. I have no desire in being the bologna in the sandwich bread of thousands of tourists. Still, what I wouldn’t give to experience Christmas in New York again. 

1 comment:

  1. Definitely retrievable ... maybe if you try the bologna thing?! ;-) Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane ... Happy holidays! :-)

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