Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing to the Middle

Published: August 13, 2009

J.C. Penney has broken free of its suburban parking area to invade Herald Square, and the most frequent question on New York’s collective lips seems to be: Why? (read more)

The new JCPenney at the Manhattan Mall in New York (former home to Gimbels, Stern's and A&S) is open and flourishing in an otherwise dismal retail market. What better way to celebrate its arrival and success by sending the New York Times fashion reporter Cintra Wilson into the store for a review. Ms. Wilson gives the store enough backhanded compliments and outright insults that's almost a parody of a serious article, even for the Fashion & Style section.

Consider this excerpt:

J. C. Penney has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren’t quite up to Canal Street’s illegal standards. It was never “get the look for less” so much as “get something vaguely shaped like the designer thing you want, but cut much more conservatively, made in all-petroleum materials, and with a too-similar wannabe logo that announces your inferiority to evil classmates as surely as if you were cursed to be followed around by a tuba section.”

Just like all good clichés, this hackneyed statement is partly based in truth, but not so much that no one would be able say it definitively. Penney’s is no runway show, but its offerings are no worse than those of Target, Kohl's or even most of the private label merchandise at Macy's.

Considering the questionable (and largely overpriced even at a discount) merchandise that passes for fashion in the dozens of off-price store that cover Manhattan, JCPenney seems like a measure of clarity. At least what you want is likely in your size.

You also have to consider that every other large scale retailer that has been in this mall since the fall of Gimbels has tanked. Stern's, for all of its history as the "Show Biz Store," looked more like a bad infomercial when they were there. Steve & Barry's was even worse, stretching its bland wares into an oversized space that was doomed to fail. Don't get me started on the perpetually lackluster specialty stores in this mall. JCPenney is a strong enough name that it could be a serious contender with the right amount of traffic.

UPDATE: Apparently neither the public or Ms. Wilson's bosses liked the article very much.
The Insult Was Extra Large
NYTimes Issues Apology For Cintra Wilson Article

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