Memories from Kaufmann’s Clock

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I was deeply saddened to learn Downtown Pittsburgh’s last major anchor department store soon will be nothing but a memory.

After about 128 years in the same location at 400 Fifth Ave., Macy’s will close the iconic Downtown Pittsburgh store which first opened in 1887 as Kaufmann’s. The company made the announcement July 13, 2015.

For decades, the Downtown location stood out for its valued traditions: Christmas window displays, visits with Santa, a holiday parade, the Arcade Bakery, the Tic Toc restaurant and much more.

Generations of Pittsburghers have met under Kaufmann’s Clock, too.

Because of Macy’s commitment to retaining a Downtown Pittsburgh store after the company bought The May Co. — the longtime parent company of regionalized department stores such as Kaufmann’s, Filene’s (Boston) and Marshall Field’s (Chicago) — we were afforded a chance to continue making memories — albeit under the Macy’s nameplate for the last nearly nine years.

But soon, like Horne’s and Gimbels before it, the Kaufmann’s and Macy’s names will disappear from the Downtown Pittsburgh retail landscape.

While there is much to discuss about how and why the company made this decision to close Pittsburgh’s last large anchor store, and on the Downtown retail climate as a whole, I want to solely focus on memories.

I didn’t grow up in a time when people flocked Downtown to Fifth Avenue and nearby streets to shop at Gimbels, Horne’s, Kaufmann’s or Jenkins Arcade — the way my mom recalls doing with her family.

It wasn’t until I moved away from Pittsburgh that I realized how special Downtown Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann’s — later Macy’s — was.

Creaky floors, the Westinghouse elevators and wooden escalators gave so much charm to the mundane task of shopping for clothing. Having lunch at the Tic Toc restaurant and grabbing thumbprints at Arcade Bakery are things shoppers can’t do at Ross Park Mall or the Mall at Robinson or any suburban mall Macy’s.

There aren’t window displays at the South Hills Village Macy’s with whimsical holiday scenes.

In a world of corporate sameness, the Macy’s in Downtown Pittsburgh added uniqueness.

Light Up Night and those holiday windows
Light Up Night is one of my most favorite days of the year. For the last several years, I’ve taken the day off work and have headed into Downtown Pittsburgh in the afternoon to begin celebrating the kickoff to the holiday season.

Part of that holiday spirit included window displays at Kaufmann’s (and later Macy’s). With so much to do Downtown that evening, I’ve only had one chance to watch the unveiling of the windows.

It was 2013. Gloria Gaynor performed and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke.

Then, the throngs of people in attendance began counting down until the bright red curtains were pulled off to usher in another season of holiday cheer, and a new generation of Pittsburghers created memories.

The last several years, Macy’s has placed the same displays in windows for passersby. But they’ve had a local feel: skaters at PPG Place, shoppers under the Kaufmann’s Clock, fireworks celebrating First Night.

In one window, a child was shown watching black and white footage (from “Miracle on 34th Street”) of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on an old television as a Macy’s elf balloon moved overhead. Out of the window in the room where the child was, onlookers could see an image of Pittsburgh’s three sister bridges.

And, of course, Virginia’s mission to help write letters to Santa was prominently displayed in another window.

Several years back, I purchased from a seller on eBay four papier-mâché-type carolers once used in a Kaufmann’s window display. I’ve yet to showcase them at Christmas time, instead keeping them safely packaged away.

Speakers above the windows on Smithfield Street likely won’t play holiday tunes this year. Lights won’t shine down on whimsical displays showcasing some of Pittsburgh’s most beloved landmarks. No musician will sing and no crowd will count down. There will be no window encouraging passersby to believe.

Just taste those thumbprint cookies at Arcade Bakery
As Pittsburgh bakeries go, Arcade is top notch.

Whenever I visited the bakery, there always was a crowd: Downtown office workers picking up cakes and lunch, families taking home thumbprint cookies, husbands sipping a Coke and eating a doughnut while their wives shopped.

I always ended up with plenty of their thumbprint cookies. These sweet treats offered a generous amount of icing and came with or without jimmies (chocolate or rainbow).

Their cakes and doughnuts were just as wonderful. No mass-produced product at a big-box grocery store could compete. Only one other locally owned bakery could compete and that place closed in the late 2000s.

“Meet me under Kaufmann’s Clock”
I’ve met up with a few people over the years under Kaufmann’s Clock.

I once drove by as a bride and groom were having pictures taken with the clock.

But one of my most favorite memories of the clock was in May 2013 — the 100th anniversary of the iconic timepiece.

Macy’s hosted a weekend-long celebration with special items and a block party on Smithfield Street.

Spending the day with my mother shopping Downtown, having lunch at Tic Toc and taking home Arcade treats made that day extra special. We’ve shopped at the Downtown store at other times, but that day was special.

As we ate at Tic Toc, my mother reminisced of the days she would shop at Kaufmann’s and Gimbels (she apparently wasn’t much of a Horne’s shopper).

More than memories
Along with the charm of the structure, the thumbprint cookies, the clock and slow elevators, I was drawn to the Downtown Pittsburgh store because of its employees, selection and organization.

A few workers on the men’s floor would recognize me as I browsed. One remembered items I previously purchased and asked how the pants or shirts were.

My mother would wait in a long line for a specific employee on the woman’s floor simply because the worker was extremely outgoing and friendly. The worker once recognized me in another business in the city.

Racks of clothing were organized neatly by size and style, and the large floors allowed for ample space — unlike suburban Macy’s, where clothing is in disarray, and racks are piled close to one another to get as much on the floor as possible.

Clock keeps ticking
Before Macy’s announced the closing, I was excited for what the Big Store — once the nickname of the Downtown Kaufmann’s building — would become.

Macy’s was to occupy the first four floors with a hotel and apartments above that.

In news stories published following Macy’s announcement, the building developer said the company was surprised the retail store was backing out of the project.

A Macy’s executive — in a prepared statement — said the department store’s departure would allow for a “holistic” project.

It seems as though retail will be sought for some portion of the lower levels where Macy’s would have been. Perhaps there is a chance for the Tic Toc and Arcade Bakery to find new life in this new plan?

While department store shoppers won’t browse clothing racks, grab a bite to eat or take home a dozen thumbprints any longer at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield in Downtown Pittsburgh, Kaufmann’s Clock will continue to tick just as it has done for more than a century, ushering in new memories for dwellers.

I’ll hold close my memories of Arcade thumbprints, Christmas window displays and shopping bags under Kaufmann’s Clock.

Win Kennywood and Pirates tickets, gift cards, more to benefit cancer research, programs

IMG_2783As part of my Cherry Pickers team for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Greater Cranberry Township’s fundraising efforts, we are raffling off a gift basket worth well over $200 (and counting)!

Basket includes: Two Kennywood Park tickets; Pittsburgh Pirates tickets; Bath & Body Works items; lots of wine; gift cards for gas, restaurants; T-shirts; and so much more!

Tickets are one for $2 or 3 for $5.

Drawing will be held July 26 at the closing ceremony of the RFLCranberry event. You don’t need to be present to win. Join us July 25-26 at North Boundary Park!

Interest in buying a few tickets? Send me an e-mail (bobbycherry2@gmail.com). You can pay via PayPay, Snapcash, Google Wallet, paper cash or check.

Uhh, where’s my car?

Rarely do I misplace anything. Sure, I might bury important paperwork in my backpack or place the Apple TV remote in a different spot, but I never misplace stuff.

Especially my car.

Well, there’s a first for everything.

I was flustered Wednesday afternoon around 5 p.m. driving into rush hour traffic Downtown looking for a place to park.

I pulled into the far right lane of the Boulevard of the Allies near Market Street to park on the street.

It’s very clearly marked that parking is not permitted between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But other vehicles were parked there already.

I sat there for a few minutes contemplating what to do.

Scared of the threat of being towed and the clock not being closer to 6 p.m., I moved my car to Third Avenue and Market Street.

Fast forward to my dinner meeting ending. I agree to take one person home.

Upon reaching the Boulevard of the Allies and Market Street, I calmly kept pushing my car’s unlock button. Nothing.

Still calm on the outside (but just about freaking out on the inside), I call the parking authority. I get the tow company number and call.

The woman asks where my car was. I tell her. As I’m on hold, my mind is racing and it starts to unravel my steps just about 2 hours prior.

It slowly hits me that I didn’t park on the Boulevard of the Allies.

The woman said they had no cars with my description and none that came in from that area in that time.

I tell her I think I might have parked on another corner. She laughed and said to call back if I didn’t find my car.

Turning the corner onto Third Avenue, I’m clicking my car button nonstop until I finally see the lights blink.

Success!

I might have gone crazy, but at least my car wasn’t towed!

Mario game triggers memories

It’s funny how smells, things we touch and stuff we see can trigger memories we never knew we had.

Last week, a colleague wrote a quick piece about rummaging through old CDs and drumming up memories from her past.

Since reading her column, I had been thinking a lot about what’s around me and the memories those things have held.

I celebrated a birthday over the weekend and decided to gift myself a new video game for my Nintendo 3DS. After playing the new game for an hour, I started playing a classic Nintendo game — “Super Mario Bros. 3.” Talk about a classic.

The game originally was released Feb. 12, 1990, for NES. Mario was the theme to my birthday party in 1990, having received many gifts with him and other Mushroom Kingdom characters. I spent a lot of time playing that game as a kid.

I’ve played it previously on my Wii and 3DS. But playing the game on my birthday triggered memories of playing “Super Mario Bros. 3″ when I was younger — eating Doritos and chipped ham sandwiches while playing Nintendo with my brother or friends, staying up far later than I should have.

A lot has changed since I first was introduced to the Koopalings in “SMB 3.” I’m glad I’m able to remember those times, and that I still have a chance to relive them.

Forced romanticism

I originally wrote this column for twodaymag.com — an online dating and social scene magazine for Millennials. This column appeared Feb. 11, 2013, at twodaymag.com.

With the onslaught of forced romanticism we’ll endure this week across social media, in the news, in the workplace and from family and friends, will come the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd.

Call them the 1-percenters, the love-haters or Occupy Valentine’s Day, but the growing number of singles is … well, actually growing.

About half of Americans are single, and ⅓ of all households are occupied with one person, The New Yorker said in a 2012 story.

Despite those numbers, floral shops are scurrying to fill orders of long-stem red roses, bakeries can’t keep “I love you” cookies and cakes in stock and store shelves of those heart-shaped candy boxes will move faster than bread and toilet paper with the threat of 1-inch of snow.

And I can only imagine how busy Kay Jewelers counters will be this week. Ugh.

So as half of America apparently will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special love, the rest of us have the chance to celebrate Single’s Awareness Day — with its anything but true abbreviation of S-A-D.

“The goal of Singles Awareness Day is to let singles have celebrations, get-togethers, etc., and to exchange gifts with their single friends,” according to SinglesAwarenessDay.com. “The awareness day was established by single people who were just sick of feeling left out on Valentine’s Day, and support of the day is growing every year.”

The website touts Feb. 15 as the big holiday, but I’ve seen other references to Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 as well.

Some Singles Awareness Day events are lighthearted — happy hours, singles gift exchanges and dinner with single friends.

The folks at Smokey Bones even are pushing a Singles Awareness Day happy hour Friday in an effort to give single people a chance to meet others (or maybe allow post-Valentine’s Day couples a chance to test the waters, eh?).

But there really are some great activities you can do just to make someone else’s day special, SinglesAwarenessDay.com says.

“If you have the evening free, why not call a local hospital or nursing home to find out if there’s a patient who doesn’t have family visiting frequently and drop in to wish them a happy Valentine’s Day complete with flowers or a goodie basket,” the website says. “This might turn out to be the most rewarding day of your life. If you choose this route, be sure to have some tissues as it could turn into a teary experience for both of you.”

In previous years, I’ve written cards to cancer survivors through the American Cancer Society Relay For Life events I’m involved with.

Last week, I wrote that men will spend roughly $175.61 on everything from candy, jewelry and dinner for their companion, according to a National Retail Federation study. That same study says women will spend $88.78 on their sweetheart.

So if for nothing else, single folks have a chance to save some cash this week.

While stores, the media and friends likely will talk about the impending day, it is important to remember that if you are single this Valentine’s Day, it’s not the end of the world.

Whether you’re single by choice or by life’s agenda, don’t let that descriptor define who you are.

With half of the country considered single, it’s clear you’re not alone.