Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Dead Mall Story: Crossroads Mall, Roanoke, Virginia

This is one of the "dead mall" stories I sent into deadmalls DOT com. Brian Florence hasn't gotten around to pubishing this yet, but I'm sure he will soon. In the meantime, enjoy...

Crossroads Mall was only one of a handful of enclosed suburban shopping centers and the first of its kind in Virginia when it opened three miles north of Roanoke in 1961 at the intersection of Williamson Road (US 11), Hershberger Road (Route 101) and Airport Road. Developer T.D. Steele and his designers created a unique and popular shopping experience for an eager public. Throngs of shoppers left the long-dominant downtown to stroll through a grand two-story interior shopping hall reminiscent of Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota. Crossroads was the first suburban shopping area in Roanoke that maintained night hours (until 9 PM) from Monday to Saturday.

Crossroads was one of three large suburban shopping centers built in the Roanoke area in 1961 and 1962. Towers Shopping Center, a two-level strip mall built on a mountain in south Roanoke featured a small interior mall with escalators to connect the two levels and opened a few months after Crossroads in 1961. Roanoke-Salem Plaza, an open-air center with a long pedestrian promenade opened in 1962, three miles to the west of Crossroads. The onslaught of new suburban retail space decimated downtown Roanoke, leading it to a slow and steady period of decline that persisted for nearly 25 years, until revitalization efforts brought it back to life, though not as a major retail destination.

Original anchors at Crossroads were JCPenney, Roses variety store, Heironimus department store, Winn-Dixie and Peoples Drug. Other original mall tenants included Fink’s Jewelers, Smartwear Irving-Saks (fine apparel), Sidney’s (women’s apparel), Thom McAn, Pete’s Deli, Cato Fashions and Bailey’s Cafeteria. Bailey’s was on the upper level and featured a open dining room that overlooked the mall’s lower level, which featured two large fountains and park-like greenery and benches.

In 1966, Crossroads Mall was expanded to coincide with opening of I-581 which came within a mile of Crossroads via Hershberger Road. A two-screen theater was added on the east side of the mall. JCPenney added 25,000 square feet to its store (growing to 85,000 square feet) and a free-standing auto center. In addition, Woolco was added to the west end of the upper level along Hershberger Road, along with a subterranean French restaurant called Fesquet’s that was very popular. Further outparcel expansion to the west in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s included Kroger and SupeRx Drugs, a small-shop building housing a Virginia ABC store, a free-standing K&W Cafeteria, and a drive-thru for Colonial American National Bank. The mall even erected a massive replica of St. Louis’s famed Gateway Arch as its sign along Hershberger Road.

Crossroads developer Steele was able to parlay his success into two other malls in the greater Roanoke area: Tanglewood Mall, built in 1973, was a larger mall located 9 miles south of Crossroads in affluent southwest Roanoke County. Tanglewood’s opening crippled Towers Shopping Center for a short period, since both malls were within two miles of each other and Tanglewood was clearly the larger, fancier and more-modern center. University Mall in nearby Blacksburg opened in 1974 and was much smaller than Crossroads. It catered to the college students at Virginia Tech and local residents.

About the time Steele’s malls had come into their own, developer Henry Faison proposed a substantial new shopping center called Valley View Mall that would be built on a large tract of land at the intersection of I-581 and Hershberger within a mile of Crossroads. The new mall was located in the “clear zone” for the local airport and was hotly contested for many years but by 1982, Faison had won approval for his plans and prepared for a 1985 opening.

It seems as soon as Valley View started construction, problems arose at Crossroads Mall. Between 1980 and 1985, store vacancies began to increase, including the loss of large anchors Winn-Dixie (1981), Woolco (1982) and Roses (1984). The mall’s décor and marketing became increasingly tired and new trendy stores were signing to Valley View and Tanglewood rather than locating at Crossroads, even if it meant waiting a year or two to open. Crossroads rebounded somewhat when Kmart signed on for most of the Woolco space in 1983, but it was clearly in crisis, especially when JCPenney announced it was leaving Crossroads for a larger, more modern store at Valley View. To be sure, Roanoke-Salem Plaza was also experiencing occupancy troubles, but the problems at that center stemmed more from poor management and neighborhood changes than competition.

July 17, 1985 is a day that will live in Roanoke retail infamy. That day, Valley View Mall opened its doors and effectively killed Crossroads Mall’s hopes of ever being a regional retail destination again. Crossroads lost half of its stores by that day and nearly half of the remaining stores within two years as leases expired. It still fared better than Roanoke-Salem Plaza, which was already ailing and lost nearly all of its stores.

New ownership christened the center Crossroads Consumer Mall, renovated the interior and attempted to attract discount stores and outlets. Although the renovation added a food court and helped the mall land Circuit City and Waccamaw Pottery, among others, there was an eerie silence that enveloped the interior of the mall (and still does to this day) as stores continued to leave and the replacements generated fewer and fewer customers. The construction of another strip shopping center, Towne Square, behind Crossroads along Airport Road brought few positive residual effects for the mall. In fact, Heironimus defected to Towne Square in 1990.

Along with Heironimus, the “Consumer” portion of Crossroads’ name was gone by the early ‘90s, as yet another owner, Zamias Services, began dismantling the small shop spaces and turning them into big-box spaces facing the outside, leaving a sad, empty interior promenade. The vast parking lots that surrounded the mall were carved up by Zamias in an attempt to generate cash flow. McDonald’s and Blockbuster helped cover up what was left of Crossroads Mall’s exterior which had been painted white to mask the effects of age.

Today, Crossroads Mall is occupied but effectively dead. The anchors are Books-A-Million, Circuit City, Kmart, Goody’s Family Clothing, Dollar-Duz-It and Jo-Ann Fabrics. Other tenants include the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Rugged Warehouse and K&W Cafeteria. Of these tenants, only the DMV still has a mall entrance. All but three of the interior shops are vacant. Amazingly, original tenant Pete’s Deli is still there and going strong. Tenants are struggling due to the abundance of other shopping options nearby at Valley View and Towne Square. There will be even less of a reason to choose Crossroads when Circuit City relocates to Valley View in early 2005.

Crossroads Mall’s future is likely as office space. Roanoke-based Advance Auto Parts took over the former Waccamaw Pottery space (vacant since 1998) in 2000 and relocated some of its corporate offices there. As the mall empties out (the DMV is currently looking to leave Crossroads when its lease expires) Advance Auto is taking up more space. With little to no new retail headed for the site as it stands, Crossroads could become the corporate headquarters for an auto parts chain. It’s not a fitting end, but it is a resolution.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Dead Mall Story: Roanoke-Salem Plaza, Roanoke, Virginia

This is one of the "dead mall" stories I sent into deadmalls DOT com. Brian Florence, the nicest webmaster you'd ever want to meet, hasn't gotten around to pubishing this yet, but I'm sure he will soon. In the meantime, enjoy...

Roanoke-Salem Plaza opened in 1962 at the intersection of Melrose Avenue (US 11/460) and Peters Creek Road (Route 117) in the northwest section of the city near its border with the city of Salem. RSP was the third large shopping center to open in two years in the Roanoke Valley, after the enclosed Crossroads Mall, three miles east and two-level Towers Shopping Center, five miles south. Its developer was B.F. Saul. Original anchors were Leggett and Miller & Rhoads department stores, G.C. Murphy and Woolworth’s variety stores, Winn-Dixie supermarket and Peoples Drug. Other stores from the early days include Hofheimer’s Shoes, Radio Shack, First National Exchange Bank, Sidney’s (women’s apparel), Thom McAn, and Lerner Shops.

RSP’s deign was innovative for its time. The Y-shaped center faced Melrose Avenue and featured a long landscaped pedestrian promenade along its main axis. At the bottom end of the Y was Leggett, the mall’s largest store. The east end of the Y featured Miller & Rhoads and G.C. Murphy, which had both street and mall entrances. The west end had Peoples Drug and Winn-Dixie. Peoples had a prime corner position at the intersection of the Y. Winn-Dixie was next door and faced two parking lots on opposite sides of the store which gave them maximum exposure and led to a unique design featuring two banks of cash registers. Woolworth’s was in a prime position midway through the mall, with its large luncheonette visible to shoppers through the plate glass windows.

Despite being an open-air shopping center in a largely residential neighborhood, Roanoke-Salem Plaza was designed in the manner of an enclosed mall. It did not lend itself to a convenient shopping experience. Except for Winn-Dixie and Leggett, the stores at RSP had precious little storefront parking. Shoppers, in theory, would park in the front, rear or west side of the mall and leisurely walk down the promenade past the various shops, leading to uncontrolled impulse buying along the way. The design ideas made sense for a regional shopping center like Crossroads Mall, where shoppers came from as far away as southern West Virginia, but never quite worked for RSP, which had a more “local” tenant mix and customer base. The novelty factor of the mall worked for only about five years, and then the problems started.

By the late 1960s, “white flight” had led to most of the target shopping audience moving away to avoid the blacks that were settling in to the neighborhood. It should be noted that the blacks were displaced from other areas of Roanoke by urban renewal, and Northwest Roanoke was the easiest and least hostile place to relocate. A silent, largely racist, boycott of the center by white middle-class citizens helped cause store closures starting in the early ‘70s. The pace accelerated when the enclosed “state-of-the-art” Tanglewood Mall opened in 1973 and Leggett, G.C. Murphy, and Miller & Rhoads all opened stores there, making RSP less of a regional retail destination.

The writing was on the wall, Roanoke-Salem Plaza was in trouble. As the ‘70s progressed, every aspect of the mall began to suffer. Stores continued to leave, the landscaping and maintenance went to pot, and crime went up. People were afraid to walk down the promenade, especially at night, for fear of being mugged. Extreme heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter led many to choose the enclosed Crossroads and Tanglewood malls rather than “rough it” at RSP. Were it not for the initial determination of Leggett and Miller & Rhoads to stay at the center (they still did decent business), the mall would surely have been dead by the late ‘70s.

In 1978, developer Henry Faison proposed Valley View Mall, a substantial new shopping center that would be built on a large tract of land at the intersection of I-581 and Hershberger within three miles of RSP. Miller & Rhoads was one of the first stores to sign to Valley View and announced plans to close their Roanoke-Salem Plaza and downtown Roanoke stores when the new mall opened. Valley View was located in the “clear zone” for the local airport and was hotly contested for many years but by 1982, Faison had won approval for his plans and prepared for a 1985 opening.

By the early ‘80s, it was clear that RSP would not be a viable retail location for much longer. G.C. Murphy pulled out in 1981, leaving a 55,000 square foot vacancy that sat empty for half a decade. Not long after, Leggett announced it was moving to Valley View. Many tenants complained that the mall’s owner B.F. Saul was intentionally letting the center go to pot. Saul countered that the mall would be renovated when Peters Creek Road was extended along the west side of the property. Previously, Peters Creek Road terminated at the west end of the mall near Winn-Dixie. The road project, proposed in the early ‘60s, was not completed until the late ‘90s, and Saul never renovated the center, even as substantially all of the anchor and chain tenants pulled out in 1985.

In 1986, Roanoke-Salem Plaza was sold to Walt Robbins, a developer who specialized in distressed shopping center properties. Robbins had renovated a similar center elsewhere in Virginia and turned it into a popular destination. He had a challenge on his hands with RSP, to be sure. Winn-Dixie, Peoples Drug and Woolworth’s were still there, but little else. Robbins renovated the center, adding a clock tower at its main entrance and new signage throughout, bringing in closeout chain U.S. Factory Outlets to replace G.C. Murphy. The name was inverted as well, to “The Plaza of Roanoke-Salem.” He based his renovations on what he thought was the impending Peters Creek Road extension, promising to bring in more new stores and even more enhancements when the road was completed. But the road project continued to stall, Robbins eventually sold the center and the factory outlet store closed almost as soon as it opened. The three remaining anchors were gone by 1991, leaving little more than a shell of a building.

A funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Roanoke-Salem Plaza became a de facto “power center,” due in no small part to the Peters Creek Road extension which finally happened circa 1998. Now called Roanoke-Salem Business Plaza, it was brought back to relative life by a series of outlet and parts stores which all grouped along the highways for maximum visibility. Around 1995, Office Outlet, a used office furniture store, moved into the former Winn-Dixie. Business was good enough to justify an expansion into the former Peoples Drug a short time later. The former Miller & Rhoads became a fireplace accessory shop and then an appliance parts store. Woolworth’s became a carpet outlet, while Leggett briefly became a business college and then an auto parts warehouse. A series of smaller spaces were combined to create a space for Harbor Freight Tools in 2002, and smaller spaces are occupied by a computer store and a free-distribution paper

Roanoke-Salem Plaza missed out on being Roanoke, Virginia’s first large mall but it certainly became the area’s first dead mall. Even though is partially occupied, all is not well. The area still has crime problems and the promenade is still deserted. The whole east side of the center is empty and looks much like it did in 1981. Even though the Peters Creek extension has turned the site into a high traffic intersection, the neighborhood is too poor and too close to Valley View Mall to justify the development of chain stores. Unless something changes, Roanoke-Salem Plaza’s fate will be to limp along as a shadow of its former self.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

hello internet

Hey, anybody who happens to read this, it's me, Steve. I'm delving a little further into geekdom by starting my own blog. I used to have my own website around 1997 or 98, but nobody visited, or at least not after the first couple of weeks, so I got bored and took it offline in 2000. But after a long hiatus, I'm back. It's going to be fun this time, or at least I hope so.

So, here's the deal. I'll spew my guts about whatever or post a bunch of wacky stuff, and you can comment on it. No holds barred. Tell what kind of jackass I am, or if you like something, a little validation, please. Have fun.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Shopping: Men's Fashion, Men's Fashion Trends

Janet Bennett and Robin Givhan, Shopping Producer, Post Fashion Editor
Friday, January 23, 2004; 1:00 PM

Women buy clothes on a whim; men buy out of need. Still, according to recent figures, menswear has come out of the sports closet, and more men are spending more on their attire. They're getting rid of the flip-flops and the same-old khakis and searching for something between the very casual and the stuffy suit of yesterday.

Join Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan and shopping producer Janet Bennett online Friday, Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the increasing number of men interested in a finished, more polished style -- as well as how many men think of themselves as metrosexuals.

The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
________________________________________________ Men and fashion are not two words we usually put together in the same sentence, but we know you guys (and your significant others) have a lot of pent-up questions about the subject, so today Robin Givhan, Washington Post fashion editor extraordinaire, will do her best to address them. Without further ado, fire away.

Robin Givhan: Good afternoon! Thanks for logging in for our little discussion about men's fashion. My first taste of the fashion industry was writing about menswear, so it's a pleasure to be able to talk about it today!

Fairfax, Va.: Do most women really care what a man wears/dresses like

Robin Givhan: Oh but of course. At least that's my humble female opinion!Women also care about a man's intelligence, sense of humor, integrity, listening skills, etc. But style is what that whole package is wrapped up in. It's the first impression.

College Park, MD: Is the changing male fashion scene the result of the gay influence on fashion

Robin Givhan: In a word, yes. but it's also influenced by a host of other factors. I am loathe to make a sweeping statement about a "gay aesthetic," but it would be fair to say that a significant number of movers and shakers in the fashion industry are gay, that gay men, on average tend to be more adventurous and more focused on clothes - or at least are willing to admit that they are. but the male fashion scene is also influenced by African American men, teenagers, sports, technology, CEO's and Hollywood.

Arlington, Va: What are you top rules for guys and fashion

Robin Givhan: in no particular order: choose quality over quanity. love thy tailor. dress for the occasion. be comfortable and don't be a chicken.

Jackson, NJ: Is there a fashion rule regarding when it is appropriate to wear white sox and when it is a no-no

Robin Givhan: wear white socks to the gym. wear them w/ white pants. the end of white socks.

Washington, DC: Just when do you know if a man is a metrosexual or just gay

Robin Givhan: uh, i believe that would be determined by his choice of companion...

Arlington VA: How long can you keep cologne? Mine has been a round for quite a while, but it still smells fine. Thanks.

Robin Givhan: the length of time that cologne lasts depends to a great degree on where you keep it. if you keep it in the bathroom, where it gets nice and warm and steamy...not so very long. kept in a cool, dark location, it'll have a long life. also, the higher the alcohol content, the faster it goes bad. cologne has more alcohol than say perfume. if you wear it daily you may not be able to detect if it goes bad as your nose is used to the slowly deteriorating scent. if you've had it more than a yearhowever, it might be getting a bit iffy...

California: When speaking of the men's fashion scene you did not mention previous styles, or vintage style as an influence on what is being worn today. Isn't fashion a cycle of sorts that reintroduces styles from the past

Robin Givhan: Righto. How could i forget the relentless influence of vintage fashions. Just as in the women's market, the men's market is influenced by stylish icons from the past such as frank sinatra and steve mcqueen. also, recent trends have picked up on styles like mod. and Ralph Lauren has built an entire empire on the retro styles of cary grant.

Washington, D.C.: I'm looking to buy a good black suit. I'm looking at some high-end names. Which would you suggest: John Varvatos, Zegna, or Armani Collezioni?

Robin Givhan: I applaud them all. Every man needs at least one splendid black suit in his wardrobe. something classic that can take him from the office to an evening event. (gosh, that sounded a lot like some insipid fashion show commentator!) but it's true. all of those lines offer beautiful, lasting styles. i'd also consider Ralph Lauren's Purple Label. but you might also look at private labels as well as brands such as Hart Schaefer Marx

Washington, DC: What's with this whole "metrosexual" craze? I walk down the street every day wondering if we've been occupied by France. Will Home Depot be able to cope?

Robin Givhan: Popular culture loves a freshly coined word. I think the word is silly, but it reflects a laudable trend, which is men who care about good grooming and style and, more important, aren't embarassed to admit it. As for the Home Depot, what woman wouldn't love a man who can hang shelves but also knows his way around the Kiehl's counter?

Washington, DC: Just want to point out two fashion faux pas.
--Don't clip anything to your belt! This includes cell phones, PDAs, or cameras! Dorkus Maximus!

--Buy pants based on fit. Nothing makes you fatter than pants that look too small on you and show your gut hanging over. I'm overweight, but look trimmer because I have pants that fit me properly.

Robin Givhan: Rock on. I agree with you 100%.

Washington, DC: These sorts of columns always amuse me. Black women have the opposite story. My husband's clothes cost more than mine, he has as many shoes as I do, and I just put up a second closet to hold his shirts! If the family is late getting somewhere, it's because Daddy took too long to get dressed (same with my Dad, my uncles, etc.) Be careful what you wish for ...

Robin Givhan: True. My mother just reported what my father wore to church last Sunday morning: charcoal gray suit, lilac shirt w/ a cornflower blue tie (ok, i bought the shirt and tie combo), black overcoat w/ a black fedora. before she could comment on his attire, he pronounced himself dapper. but he's never over the top. a fashion obsessed man is just as bad as a fashion obsessed woman.

Washington DC: OK, I'm a chicken. I stick to a few colors (black, gray, navy) and cannot fathom how to match pinstripes and patterns on suits, shirts and ties. Any hints on livening up the colors and jazzing up the business wear

Robin Givhan: set your inner peacock free! the key to mixing patterns is to stay in the same color family. one pattern should be the dominant pattern and the other should compliment it. don't have a war of stripes, checks and plaids going on over your body. you could also start w/ shirts that are not the usual white, powder blue or pale yellow. maybe deeper hued shirts and a stronger tie. love a French cuff shirt and a nice pocket square.

Long Beach, CA: Stylish proponents of "Ska" music, Rock Steady music, and early reggae can very well wear white socks with black shoes and a '60s sharkskin, and be quite on the money. Just thought I'd mention that!

Robin Givhan: true. but that is a very specific kind of look. not mainstream. that's like fashion 401. we're talking introductory course!

Washington, DC: Michael Jordan used to do/does the white socks w/ suits thing. With his height, it seems to break up the length of his pants nicely. So are you saying MJ is fashion inept?

Robin Givhan: even the great ones stumble.

Washington, DC: OK, what's Kiehl's?

Robin Givhan: boutique grooming products for men and women. known for their utilitarian packaging. they don't advertise. they're opening a store in Georgetown in April

Arlington, Va: First, thank you for being so deliciously evil and wicked. You are truly an original. Your savaging of Katherine Harris alone was worth the price of the paper. How do you feel about fashion people? Also, how do you feel about Paris Hilton-inspired designers such as Heatherette? Thanks.

Robin Givhan: Hugs back to you. How do I feel about fashion people? I love them like they are naughty children. I'm not the biggest fan of Ms. Hilton. not a fan of heatherette either.

Gaithersburg, MD: What is the one thing I should NOT do? What's your number one pet peeve re: men's fashion?

Robin Givhan: i can only pick one? then it would be the man in the uniform: Dockers, blue chambray button-down shirt, loafers with a rolled over heel and that haven't seen polish in their lifetime, canvas backpack

Washington, D.C.: I was told growing up that black suits were tacky, and that the only black suit a gentleman should own would be a tuxedo. Somehow I can't seem to fathom buying a black suit. It's like the white shoe Memorial/Labor Day rule that my mom pounded into my sisters!

Robin Givhan: a black suit tacky? say it isn't so. a black suit is more formal than a navy one. it's extremely elegant. but it should be in a beautiful matte wool- no sheen.

Washington, DC: When does Tom Ford leave the Gucci company? Was spring 2004 his final line?

Robin Givhan: Tom's last Gucci collection for men was this month - for fall 2004. he leaves the company in April 2004, so he's still got the women's collections for fall to show: Gucci and YSL. his final finale will be, I believe, March 7. YSL women's show. i'm sure there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Capitol Hill: Robin, love your writing. I remember you writing a column about "Age Appropriate" dressing for women, but what about men? I am a 37-year-old gay man, and dress pretty conservatively at work and for casual. I can't tell you how many men my age and older who wear things that really do look ridiculous on them! Those awful low rider flared pants remind me of Joey Heatherton rolling around on a mattress circa 1971. What do you think? I am interested in your opinion, keep up the good work!

Robin Givhan: Oooh, thanks for the compliments. You are 37 years young, baby!I think, however, there does come a time when a man can no longer dress like a surfer dude, a hip hop kid or a boy toy. that age, is approximatly 29, give or take. at that point, one should be well on the path to finding personal style and no longer feeling the need to dress to fit a specific mold.

Silver Spring, MD: I'm an African-American man who finds the over emphasis on fashion by other African-American men truly ridiculous, especially from a financial perspective. I can't tell you how many brothers I know going into debt by shopping at Saks and Nordstroms instead of Target and Marshall's.

Robin Givhan: i think everyone is allowed their indulgence. for some people it's clothes, for others it's cars, wine, jewelry, rare books, season tickets to the whatevers. the problem is when the indulgence leads to debt counseling.

Los Angeles, CA: Suggestion to women in general: Stylish dressing is acceptable, but BEWARE of men who get manicures.

Robin Givhan: i don't mind the manicure...but beware of men who go for the clear polish!

Washington, DC: "Love thy tailor?" I am obviously in the wrong place. How many men do you think have a tailor?

Robin Givhan: not enough! actually, i see a lot of men walking around in suits who clearly didn't even bother to have the pants hemmed to the proper length. a tailor is just the guy who comes into the fitting room when you buy your suit. Banana Republic has tailors who will make sure jackets fit correctly. practically every dry cleaner offers some tailoring service. i'm not talking custom-made...

"Man In Uniform" here.: Wow.... I am that "man in uniform," minus the loafers. My girlfriend says I dress very classic and thinks I need to be a little more, in her words, edgy. I'm comfortable being classic, but how would you suggest a 24-year-old guy like myself adds the edge without breaking the bank. She has pointed me towards some nice rollneck sweaters and has me wearing black or gray pants more often. What else can I do?

Robin Givhan: Listen to your girlfriend. she will not lead you astray. i don't have anything against khakis, not really, but there's an entire world of trousers out there from gray flannel, black wool, corduroy, etc. instead of the pale blue shirt, there are beautiful, lightweight sweaters, turtlenecks, striped shirts, henleys. I suspect stores such as the Gap, Club Monaco wouldn't break the bank.

Washington, DC: Besides GQ, what sources should men use to stay current on fashion trends

Robin Givhan: i'm a fan of GQ. for those looking to get the phd in men's fashion there's magazines like vogue homme. even breezing through a magazine such as People will give you a sense of how stylists are putting men together in Hollywood- many of whom are as skittish about fashion as anyone else. but i'll be honest, the pickings are slim. you can also check out fashion online, pretty much every designer has a website.

Washington, DC: "Love thy tailor" Sam Lee, Penn Ave SE by Eastern Market. Best guy in the city!

Robin Givhan: thanks!

Cleveland, OH: When will the pleated pant disappear forever? Is there a single instance when they should be preferred over flat fronts

Robin Givhan: hmmm, i can't think of one. but some men like them, swear by them, can't say goodbye to them. a modest pleat is fine. nothing too swashbuckling, please.

San Diego, CA: Who is your vote for best-dressed man in America? Esquire voted the Duke of Windsor as the best dressed man of the 20th century, as he created fashion looks all by himself, including his own way of tying neck ties. Does this point out the need to be the very best?

Robin Givhan: best-dressed man in America? my father. (just kidding) i can't argue with the Duke of Windsor. but dressing well is not a competition. it's doing the best for yourself and having the good manners to present yourself well to those around you.

Washington, DC: Where's the best place to get stylish clothes? I've looked at Saks and Neiman Marcus, but the prices are high. I guess what I'm asking is where can I get designer clothes (Versace, Armani, Zegna, etc.) for a better price?

Robin Givhan: Well, now, you want it all don't you? Designer, stylish clothes. for a bargain? sounds like you need to go to an outlet like Potomoc Mills (is the Barneys outlet still there?) or wait until Last Call. Armani prices, are Armani prices. at least at retail.

Mitchellville, Md.: Henleys? What's that? You're talking to fashion idiots here, Robin. We need a glossary.

Robin Givhan: sorry, they're those long sleeve t-shirts. they have a few buttons just at the neck. lots of men wear them as a layer in cold weather.

Laurel MD: How does one judge an appropriate price for clothing? Everything's half off at least some of the time; and in one department store I swear everything is at least 40 percent off some arbitrary reference price. How do I know what I ought to pay for something?

Robin Givhan: appropriate is oftenin the eye of the beholder... however, in general, retailers markup clothes by 100% (check my math on this please) so if it cost a retailer $100 to buy a shirt wholesale, they sell it to you for $200 give or take. so when something is marked 25% or 50% off, the retailer still profits. my rule of thumb is to never cut corners on shoes or a suit. also, sometimes, you're not just paying for the material, you're paying for the styling and the fit.

Arlington, VA: Just a word of advice to men out there - flat front pants flatter everyone. Pleats are awful on almost everyone. As a single woman in this town, I am done with Dockers and sports caps (ugh), but at the same time I do not want a guy who's too slick and vain. That's my department. Guys - there is a happy medium. Just be interested in style, and have a sense of humor when you dress. I love a guy with a "twist," whether it's integrating some tasteful vintage into your wardrobe or being willing to try a shirt with a bit of color. Take "normal" and just give it a little twist and you'll turn heads. Relax and enjoy. And, men of Washington, your hair is too short. Just let it grow out and inch or two (unless you're balding, in which case you can shave it all off).

Robin Givhan: there you have it fellas

NC: What should you look for in a tie? Match the shirt? Match the suit? Is there a rule about striped or patterned ties on striped or checked shirts? From what I can tell, the solid color tie on solid color shirt is passing. True?

Robin Givhan: ok, the tone on tone shirt and tie, Regis Philbin, Who Wants to be a Millionaire look? over, goodbye, so long. you will not be mocked for wearing it, but it is no longer the preference of Mr. Fashionable. The tie does not have to match the shirt or the suit. But it should compliment them both. You can absolutely wear a patterned tie on a patterned shirt, but again, that requires a more advanced degree in fashion.

Washington, DC: Speaking of tying neck ties, any advice for us?

Robin Givhan: i prefer the half-Windsor knot. small, tight. the full on Windsor is larger, requires a spread collar and a man of some self-assurance as the knot is approximately the size of a golf ball. i will not even discuss clip ons of any sort.

Washington, DC: What do you think of Syms or Men's Wearhouse as a place to get good suits? They don't have the big names, but they have suits for $400 or less.

Robin Givhan: don't judge a suit by its price tag. how's the fabric? is it so thin it feels like it'll go shiny in five seconds. how's the fit? it's not some crazy, out-of-date style is it? i think you can get fine suits in a lot of places. andnever forget the massive sales that full price stores have.

Silver Spring: Any thoughts on what the obesity epidemic is doing to fashion; Are retailers responding, or do they not care, comfortable in the belief that their "real" customers will always be thin

Robin Givhan: Obesity...bad bad bad. i think retailers are responding with a wider variety of stylish clothing under the banner of big and tall. both mid-price and high end. but the fashion industry- that is the runway industry - does not believe in paunches. fair or not. buti do think menswear is, in general more forgiving of a wider variety of physiques than womenswera.

Washington, DC: Robin and Janet, your chats are my favorites. But why so infrequent?? DC might not be a fashion capital, but I still think there is sufficient demand for at least monthly chats on this topic (obviously, not just on men's fashion, but on fashion generally). Besides, how else do you expect the fashion landscape here to improve? Keep up the great work!

Robin Givhan: I'm game! I'm sorry I can't get to more of your questions, but this has been a real pleasure. Hopefully we can do it again soon. In the meantime, perhaps some of your questions will turn into stories. Thanks for participating.
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

key dates in the hstory of Sears, Roebuck

* 1886: Richard W. Sears, a railroad station agent who sells coal as a side job, buys unwanted watches from jeweler and founds R.W. Sears Watch Co. in Minneapolis.

* 1887: Moves company to Chicago and places newspaper ad for watchmaker, hires Alvah C. Roebuck.

* 1893: Firm incorporates as Sears, Roebuck and Co., offering products by mail order to rural residents and farmers at lower-than-general store prices.

* 1896: Issues first general catalog.

* 1906: Opens three-million-square-foot mail order plant in Chicago, largest in world. Opens second plant in Dallas.

* 1908: Richard Sears retires as company president.

* 1909: Company begins selling Sears Motor Buggy. (line discontinued in 1912)

* 1916: Establishes savings and profit sharing program for employees.

* 1925: First Sears retail store opens in catalog center on Chicago's West Side.

* 1927: Launches Craftsman and Kenmore brands.

* 1931: Establishes Allstate Insurance Co.

* 1945: Sears sales pass $1 billion.

* 1953: Establishes Simpsons-Sears Ltd. in Canada.

* 1962: Introduces Vincent Price Fine Arts Collection.

* 1973: Sears moves headquarters to Sears Tower, then world's tallest building.

* 1981: Sears acquires Dean Witter Reynolds and Coldwell, Banker & Co.

* 1985: Debuts Discover Card.

* 1993: Catalog discontinued. Sells 20 percent of Allstate. Sells off Coldwell Banker Residential Services and Sears Mortgage Banking Group.

* 1995: Headquarters move to Hoffman Estates, Ill.

* 1997: Opens Great Indoors stores.

* 2002: Acquires Lands End specialty catalog.

* 2004: Announces merger with Kmart to form Sears Holding Corp.

what's next for Sears, Kmart (FAQ)

Q. Will some stores close?
A. Yes. Sears and Kmart execs will look at the combined company's 3,500 stores with an eye to sell off or lease "non-strategic" locations. That could be less-attractive stores, or possibly even mall anchors that would fetch a better price from another chain.

Q. What about Sears' Hoffman Estates (IL) headquarters?
A. Hoffman Estates will be the home of the merged operations.

Q. Will there be layoffs?
A. "There will be some head count changes that come out of this," said Edward Lampert, chairman of the combined company. He offered no details, but most pink slips are likely to come when stores are closed, and in consolidating Sears' Hoffman Estates and Kmart's Michigan headquarters.

Q. Will Kmart stores convert to Sears stores?
A. The two chains will remain separate operations. But Sears wants to add many more off-the-mall locations, like its Sears Grand stores. And Kmart is where it will find them.
Already Sears plans to convert 50 Kmart stores to the Sears brand by April, part of a separate deal it made for the stores in September.
A half-dozen Wal-Mart stores are part of the Sears off-mall expansion, too. Today Sears Chief Executive Alan Lacy said the Pekin, IL store would be the model for how the new Sears stores would look.

Q. Will some Sears stores turn into Kmarts?
A. It's less likely that Sears will go Kmart. Lampert said Kmart doesn't make sense as a mall anchor. It's going to be on a "store-by-store basis," he said.

Q. Will I be able to be able to buy Craftsman tools at Kmart?
A. Executives said the two chains would "cross-merchandise" at each other's stores. That could include not only Craftsman but Kenmore appliances--already sold at Sears' Great Indoors home centers --and DieHard batteries. All three were identified in the merger announcement as "key" brands. Sears also owns the Lands' End, Covington and Apostrophe clothing lines, which might make sense in Kmart's apparel-heavy mix.

Q. Will Martha Stewart show up at Sears?
A. Martha Stewart herself is out of circulation for a while, but her home furnishings line is a good bet for Sears. It already sells Martha Stewart Everyday goods in Canada, and her brand of paint is featured at the Great Indoors.
Sears likely would have to work out a deal with Stewart's company, but her company's stock is already rising on the prospect of more Martha at more stores.
The announcement specified that Kmart would continue selling not only Martha Stewart Everyday, but also its Joe Boxer, Jaclyn Smith, Route 66, Thalia Sodi and Sesame Street items.

Q. So, will Sears look more like Kmart or Kmart look more like Sears?
A. A little of both. The Sears Grand stores, which have groceries and other everyday items, are already closer to the Kmart mix, and some items like home electronics have done so well there that mall stores have expanded their offerings. Kmart also does some things like pharmacy and health-and-beauty aids that Sears may add.
Sears wants to keep itself as a step up from discounters like Kmart, but there's a lot of room for Sears to steal market share from the likes of Target and Wal-Mart.