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When Your Department Moves to a Department Store

Bob Goldman on

Can't afford to shop at a Polo store? Here's good news. Now, you can work at a Polo store. And when I say, "work," I don't mean gift-wrapping $100 pairs of cashmere socks.

The work you could be doing at Polo is the same work you used to do at your office. The same work you used to do at your home after COVID-19 put your office off the grid. That's because some Polo stores, like some department stores, are turning their empty aisles and dust-covered display counters into coworking spaces, available on a monthly basis to formerly happy work-at-homers suddenly struck with mid-career claustrophobia.

Introducing SaksWorks.

SaksWorks is the love child of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain and WeWork, the high-flying coworking business that flew up the IPO ladder before crashing and burning through $40 billion-plus of valuation, seemingly overnight.

That's a lot of cashmere socks.

While the WeWork explosion was front-page news, the implosion of department stores like Saks and Polo happened quietly. The antics of Amazon and other internet retailers took the fun out of shopping at upscale stores, unless, of course, you enjoyed paying way too much for the privilege of dealing with sad, snooty clerks being paid way too little.

 

It was a desire to wring profits from its well-located real estate that led Richard Baker, the chairman of Hudson's Bay Co., which owns Saks, to offer retail respite to the more than 36 million people predicted to be working from home by 2025.

Or so I learned from "Meet Me in My Office, in Men's Underwear on 5," an effervescent article by Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times.

While the WeWork brand re-envisioned the office as "a party space in a dorm at a well-endowed university," SaksWork features mellow, moss-covered garden walls, a signature pepperwood scent, pumped into the air and masking, one hopes, the odors arising from a fancy gym outfitted with Peloton bikes. (Instead of the usual snack machine, SaksWorks has built-in hydroponic gardens, offering office-grown Napa cabbage and tatsoi. Your boss may grill you, but without even leaving the premises, you're ready to stir-fry.)

The current cost for a SaksWorks membership is about $300 a month. For citybound work-at-homers, jammed into tiny apartments with grumpy partners and even grumpier children, it's a small price to pay for breathing room. And it is certainly a worthwhile option if your only alternative for finding more space is a move to Cow Patty, Montana.

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