This time of year is a time of remembrance. I think of my father quite a bit, because we shared a Christmas tradition for a good part of my life: shopping at Macy’s Herald Square. It wasn’t quite Miracle on 34th Street, but it was magical nevertheless. As a child, and as I grew, I prided myself on being able to keep pace with my Dad’s long strides as we visited that and some of his other favorite places.
Actually, Macy’s was just part of the whole Christmas in New York experience, and it’s just about the only store still remaining from the decades of remembrances. My father, who had grown up in NYC during the Depression, knew those streets well. He taught me to love the subway and the ease with which it would take us from Jamaica, Queens to the heart of midtown. We would start our shopping trip at Brentano’s Books, where there were always interesting little toys with which I could play. We’d go downstairs to Schirmer Music, passing a toy display harpsichord on the way to the bins filled with sheet music. My father bought Beethoven and Czerny and Hanon and Chopin. He especially loved playing Chopin etudes on the piano I inherited from my mother’s mother.
We would lunch at Bun and Burger on 48th Street, then walk a few blocks down Fifth Avenue and get cards at the Hallmark store. We would then get back on the subway and go to Macy’s. We would go to the jewelry counter where I would help Dad pick out just the perfect pair of earrings for Mom. We would go upstairs to Holiday Lane and I would choose a new ornament for the tree from the hundreds dazzling ones available. We’d also get our holiday cards here. And then we might go up Fifth Avenue to where some more bookstores were–Scribners, B. Dalton, Doubleday, Waldenbooks–before getting back to Rockefeller Center to admire the tree and the skating rink.
One year, we had to hunt the city for a Bun and Burger and found one in the East 60s. Brentano’s eventually became Barnes and Noble, and now there’s a clothing retailer in that space. Scribner’s, B. Dalton, Doubleday, Waldenbooks went the way of all things. Schirmer Music moved uptown to the Lincoln Center area, and then it eventually closed. Rockefeller Center is still there, and so is the tree.
The NYC–the Manhattan–I grew up with is mostly gone. When I go there for the holidays, I see both the old and the new. I also see a lot more people crowding its streets than ever before, which makes midtown less pleasant to visit every year. I still go to Macy’s, though, and it’s still magical.