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Commemoration, not commerce, was the order of the day for retailers across the country Wednesday.
People admired the 9/11 memorial store windows installed by retailers nationwide this week, but they hardly shopped. The windows were cleared of merchandise and presented dramatic yet tasteful messages and images capturing the sadness of the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and the spirit of national pride and hope.
In addition, many stores opened an hour or two later to accommodate those attending memorials or watching them on TV, and weeks ago decided not to run ads other than those marking 9/11.
While midtown Manhattan was busy by the afternoon, it did little to help sales. SoHo seemed much quieter around midday, with few shopping bags spotted. SoHo and the rest of downtown Manhattan has been slowly recovering since the destruction of the World Trade Center.
It was also rather quiet in the financial markets, as trading volumes remained light in shortened sessions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 21.37 points, or 0.25 percent, to 8,581.24. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 4.60 points, or 0.35 percent, to 1,315.49. Nasdaq started trading at 11 a.m. and the New York Stock Exchange rang the opening bell at noon. They normally open at 9:30.
“I don’t know how much business we’re doing today,” Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, said Wednesday afternoon. “We didn’t plan any promotions today, and we’re not calling people today for an event tomorrow. We spent a lot of time on how to appropriately observe this day.”
Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship held a memorial service that more than 2,500 employees attended. All 25 Bloomingdale’s stores around the country have commemorative murals in their windows, created by children and organized by educational organizations and summer camps. The flagship, for example, has 30 murals created by children from The Fresh Air Fund’s Camp Mariah in Fishkill, N.Y., that will be on display until Sunday.
At the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, “traffic was light as expected,” said Jaqui Lividini, the senior vice president of fashion merchandising and communications. Saks opened at noon, closed at the normal time of 7 p.m., and has a time capsule that will be buried in the cornerstone of the store this weekend, on 50th and Fifth Avenue, with newspaper articles about Sept. 11, 2001, and other poignant ephemera, including a book that includes thoughts on 9/11 from customers. Also, Saks has a steel sculpture in its atrium, made from the remains of the World Trade Center, and customers received white ribbons.
In Washington, D.C., traffic in the city and on the Metro at rush hour was light, as thousands attended various memorial services, including one across the Potomac River at the Pentagon, which was struck by terrorists a year ago. At the conclusion of ceremonies, four F-16 fighter jets passed over the building and the city.
Some stores noticed a pickup in business in the afternoon. Mark Tomlin, vice president of Saks Jandel, which operates two stores, at the Watergate in Washington and in suburban Chevy Chase, Md. , said, “We’ve had a lot of traffic in the afternoon. A lot of friends came in together after having lunch.” However, he said shoppers seemed somber. And at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, near the Pentagon, “I had a food court full of Montgomery County rescue workers,” said Leslie Maxam, mall marketing director. The squad participated in last year’s Pentagon rescue.
In Dallas, too, “the mood is very somber,” said Bill Dodson, president of the Lilly Dodson specialty store. “We’ve allowed our staff to take off for church services. We had a memorial service among our staff this morning to commemorate the event. As far as doing windows or anything commercial, we aren’t. But all our employees have on something that is symbolic of America — flag pendants, etc. There’s a definite feeling of quietness and introspection throughout the Lilly Dodson and Escada stores. Escada has closed their corporate offices in New York, too.”
Donna Thomas, owner of Avant, another women’s specialty store in Dallas, said, “We’re dressing patriotically with Americana accessories such as flag necklaces and red, white and blue belts. It’s a very quiet and thoughtful time at the store.”
Malls were also on the quiet side in California. “I expect that traffic will be somewhat light today,” said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif. “There seems to be a more somber mood inside the center.” In California, Mervyn’s encouraged employees at its 264 stores to wear red, white and blue clothing to commemorate 9/11. The company suspended large-scale advertising and promotions for the day, said Leanne Furman, a spokeswoman. Otherwise, the store operated normally, she said.
Macy’s West held a moment of silence and the 139-unit chain replaced promotional ads in newspapers with memorial ads of remembrance. Dozens of flags surround the flagship on San Francisco’s Union Square.
The majority of retailers around Union Square opened late in deference to memorial services and in-store observances, according to Donna Ficarrotta, managing director of the Union Square Association. “Walking through this square, you remember how it felt one year ago,” she said. “I don’t think anybody is just ignoring it.”
At Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, all music, business and transactions ceased for a one-minute moment of silence at noon. Merchants on nearby Rodeo Drive, meanwhile, cleared out merchandise in their windows to make way for displays of white roses, gladiolus or orchids. Two flags topped each light post stretching from Wilshire to Santa Monica Boulevards.
“We thought a soft quiet statement of peace and solidarity would be a very nice way to honor the memory of those lives lost,” said Peri Ellen Berne, president of the Rodeo Drive Committee.