Macy’s and our new reality

To me, the recent boarding up of Macy’s 34th Street, in anticipation of possible post-election violence, symbolizes our country’s new reality.

As a young Jewish girl, I longed for a Christmas tree. No amount of cajoling or arguing could persuade my parents to allow me to have one. But I vividly remember being entranced by the famous Christmas-themed windows at Macy’s, and what it meant to me. Viewing those windows were part of my family’s annual ritual of visiting the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and attending the annual Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.  

Those glorious windows were special to me; there were simply so many of them, and they ignited the imagination (or at least my imagination). They literally sparkled, beckoning to all sightseers, no matter what their religion. And for a brief moment, I could fully participate in a holiday that I could only otherwise observe as an outsider. 

Those sweet days are long gone but were replaced, years later, with another ritual: cutting through that same Macy’s on my way to and from Penn Station, as I commuted to my office, one block away from the store. It provided brief shelter and respite from rain and snow, chilling cold and sweltering heat. It was always bustling and welcoming. Tourists, speaking many languages and bearing large shopping bags, were a large presence. It gave the store a rather festive, international air. I liked that. 

A high point of spring, for me, was always the Macy’s flower show, with its windows bedecked with multicolored blossoms. In the weeks before the flower show officially opened, despite the harsh March winds, I knew that spring was coming. I followed the progress as the windows and street floor began to be decorated with elaborate floral arrangements. 

Macy’s also taught me a lesson about human nature.

During those dark days after 9/11, immediately after New York opened up again, I took one of the first DeCamp express buses out of Montclair. It was about half full. Usually, passengers were buried in their newspapers and electrical devices. But in that bus, at that time, we all had the need to talk and connect. We spoke of shock, confusion and fear. None of us felt comfortable going into Manhattan, but we each — for our own reasons — felt we had no choice. My story was that I’m a psychotherapist; I had patients. End of story.

When I arrived in the city, I did not cut through Macy’s as I usually did. I was sure it would be the next target. While the Empire State building, on the other end of the block where my office was located, had become a virtual fortress, there was no visible security presence at any of the store’s entrances. 

Suddenly those interesting tourists with large shopping bags now seemed potentially menacing. And the landmark status of the building seemed downright dangerous.

But then, later that afternoon, I got a very noticeable run in my stockings (in those days I cared about such things). Feeling I had no choice, I nervously dashed into Macy’s for a replacement. It was virtually empty, but I still vividly remember all the salespeople standing behind counters in an empty store, determinedly smiling. 

I hurriedly grabbed a pair of stockings and, as I checked out, I asked the salesperson if she was frightened being there. Of course she said yes, then hurriedly added, “But this is my job.” To me, those sales clerks at Macy’s symbolized the quiet courage and determination of New Yorkers during that terrible time — a time that seemed to bring out the best in so many of us.

Now, suddenly, in a very different time, the Macy’s that had always been so welcoming to so many of us was boarded up. Has there ever been an American election that’s brought forth such fear?

Happily, at this point in time, instead of violence there is dancing in the streets and the joyous honking of car horns. Soon, the boards covering Macy’s windows will undoubtedly be removed. 

Will that be a harbinger of renewed hope for our divided country? 

Janice Cohn



Broad-brushed as preservationists

Montclair Local is providing true public service through its in-depth reporting on Lackawanna. The issues are significant and many, and should concern all citizens. To clarify one crucial point: The members of A Better Lackawanna LLC should not be painted with one brush as being preservationists — our 200+ members joined for any number of reasons, which align with the points in our lawsuit. 

In one survey we did of members’ motivations, 80 percent said they were greatly concerned about the 400-car parking shortage and the traffic impact at what is perhaps the busiest intersection in all of Montclair. Only 20 percent said historic preservation was important to them.

At its heart, our appeal is about good government and the public’s protected right to question and comment. All residents should be outraged at the taking of the public easement on Grove Street, without disclosure or input by the public. This project needs to return to the drawing board — a full remand, in legalese — a drawing board based on the survey map that was missing throughout the original approval process.

Priscilla Eshelman

A Better Lackawanna