By Lenore Fedow
A store closing sign in the window of Barneys New York’s flagship on Madison Avenue. The retailer filed for bankruptcy this summer amid rising costs and slipping sales.
I have been covering Barneys New York’s bankruptcy proceedings since July, when it was just a rumbling rumor.

When the sale was finalized on the first of November, I felt a pang of sadness for the legendary retailer, a staple on New York’s Madison Avenue.

20191119 Empty shelvesA few shelves on the first floor of Barneys near the handbag section had been cleared out.Though a native New Yorker, I never shopped there, but I aspired to be the sort of person that could, both in budget and style.

I hopped on the uptown 5 train on a Thursday afternoon to bid a final farewell to the iconic space and scope out some potential Christmas gifts.

The bright-yellow and dark-red “Store Closing Sale” signs shout at you from the mannequin-filled windows, leading you to the entrance and following you throughout the store.

The first floor was quiet, a dozen or so people scattered throughout the handbag and men’s sections.

20191119 Neuwirth PendantsA row of pendants in the Irene Neuwirth section, marked down as part of the Barneys store closing saleI was the only one browsing the jewelry section, an array of glass showcases lining the walls and scattered throughout the middle.

All the showcases held a white cardboard sign with a bold-red “10% off” sign standing beside the displays.

A wall of Irene Neuwirth exclusives were also marked down 10 percent, small white tags reflecting the sale price hanging off rows of gemstone pendants.

In the men’s section, a large white store closing sign loomed over showcases of Jan Leslie cufflinks and Gucci

The other floors were relatively quiet, never more than a handful of shoppers browsing around and even fewer with items in their hands.

I wondered how many people stopped in for sentimental reasons, getting one last look around.

I made my way up to another jewelry section on the eighth floor, a wall decal listing out the brands I could find there, including lower price point jewelry from brands such as Agmes and Eye M.

I was not alone this time. Another woman, perhaps in her 50s, strolled along the cases behind me.

20191119 Eye MA display case on the eighth-floor jewelry section, featuring discounted jewelry from New York-based brand Eye M
It appears a few pieces had sold, based on the empty spots in the display cases, but the section as a whole was fairly quiet.

A warm, fuzzy scarf caught my eye, luring me away from the jewelry section to a nearby table topped with a few winter accessories.

It was a nice scarf with pretty weaving and soft to the touch, but it was nothing to write home about and from an unfamiliar brand. The hefty price tag of a few hundred dollars was all the convincing I needed to put it down and make my way to the elevator.

On the ride down, it occurred to me there were very few things in the store that I would buy.

20191119 Store closingA store closing sign looms large in the men’s section, overlooking rows of cufflinks and watches.
January will mark my first year with National Jeweler and, believe me, I have seen some out-of-this-world jewelry in my time here and thought to myself “Who really buys this stuff?”

But I know that people do, and the numbers back me up.

I cover the quarterly reports from LVMH and Richemont, watching sales from high-end, high-price brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton climb higher and higher, confirmation that consumers are buying luxury goods when the value proposition is there.

Perhaps further proof to the point, I attended an event just five minutes away at Bloomingdale’s after my visit to Barneys, and it was like night and day.

The main difference I felt was that Bloomingdale’s was trying to sell me an experience.

The store was well-lit and lively, pops of color catching my eye at every turn. Glitter-covered mannequin acrobats hung from the ceiling, each representing a different zodiac sign.

20191119 Bloomingdales displayA bright-blue acrobat, designed to represent the zodiac sign Scorpio, hung from the ceiling in Bloomingdale’s makeup department.
I had a few minutes to spare, so I browsed through a holiday gift section, checking out the $40 skincare kits and $12 artisanal chocolates.

It was accessible luxury, a piece of the store’s grandness to take home with me.

Perhaps it’s unfair to rate Barneys based on its final days, not having known it at its peak.

So I will let actress Sarah Jessica Parker, whose character Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City” roamed the halls of all the finest New York City department stores, have the last word here.

“If you are a good person and you work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It’s the decadent reward,” she once said in an interview with Vanity Fair, a quote the retailer proudly displays on its website.

I’m sure that’s how many will choose to remember Barneys, a beacon of fashion and decadence in its heyday, welcoming customers inside its halls and sending them away with a little something special to remember it by.

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