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Column: I was amazed by Neiman Marcus 60 years ago; now I'm amazed how long it lasted

Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

I could've warned Stanley Marcus about digging his Texas spurs into Yankee soil.

Neiman Marcus is now bankrupt and shedding some of its far-flung stores, but six decades ago, I sensed his magic touch might not travel well.

Back then, after I married into a Dallas oil family, my mother-in-law took me to the original Neiman Marcus store.

"Burn his clothes, and dress him in something posh!" she exclaimed. It was her favorite adjective.

Even as I was expecting to be escorted out by security, several sales ladies rushed over with French designer jeans and fringed cowboy shirts no cowboy could afford. They warmly greeted my mother-in-law by her first name. She'd been a fashion model, and her father-in-law made a fabled oil strike.

I sensed that Stanley Marcus didn't run just another department store. He presided over a playground for the nouveau riche, for those who will always be nouveau riche for all their millions, and for nouveau riche wannabes.

 

His admonition to the clerks tending the fine jewelry counter was not to steer shabbily dressed customers to the costume jewelry department, my mother-in-law explained. "He'd say: 'They might not have had time to change since the oil well gushed.' "

A clerk nodded, apparently in agreement.

On another visit, my mother-in-law was shown a piece of jewelry. "It's nice," she said. "Do you have something more expensive?"

Waiters in the Zodiac dining room were trained similarly to the clerks. Upon taking food orders, they'd gently guide a customer to an appropriate wine: "And don't you think that your boeuf bourguignon would be nicely paired with a goblet of Chateauneuf du Pape?"

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