A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Friday 11 November 2011

Filene's Basement: A Retro Boston Tribute

Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!!

I want to thank all of you who sent me emails about the announced closure of Filene’s Basement Stores in 2012.

I have avoided a Filene’s Basement tribute for some time now. The 2010 documentary on WGBH got a great deal of press coverage and I felt I wanted that to pass before I tossed my hat in the ring.

As a retro Boston cultural historian, I must confess that Filene’s has the most widespread fame of all the beloved Boston department stores of our retro past. Filene’s also was the “last to fall” of all our BIG stores of yesteryear. So many memories have been shared and aired about this great Boston legend and now with the final closing of Filene’s Basement Stores in 2012, it seems to be time to share a few memories and pay tribute in the “Retro Boston” way!

For many of us, Filene’s Basement was lost in 2007 when Filene’s Department Store in Boston was closed for good. The basement store, although a separate company since 1988, lost its rightful home and we lost our treasured bargain basement bazaar.

The basement had its roots in the former location of Filene’s when it was located on the corner of Washington and Winter Streets. A brilliant idea that was launched in 1909 soon became a legend in Boston and in time, word spread all over the world. The basement grew larger with the move across the street to Filene’s new “state of the art” location designed by Daniel H. Burnham in 1912 and the incredible “Automatic Basement Markdown Plan” became part of a proper Bostonian’s education.

As the 20th century moved along, older buildings were razed and new ones were built as Filene’s Department Store became a block-sized complex that rivalled all the other BIG Boston department stores...and with each addition to this retail complex....the basement grew larger and larger!

The basement attracted a wide range of followers including many a celebrity who enjoyed stopping by if they were in Boston appearing in a show or attending an event.

My own memories of Filene’s Basement began in my later teen years.
I can recall my very first visit to the famed basement so vividly. I remember coming down the escalator from the main street floor above and surveying the endless rows of open bin style tables with crowds of people picking through the various wares. It seemed like sheer chaos....but I jumped in....and never looked back!
The beauty of Filene’s Basement was.....you never knew what you might find.....or how much you might pay....it was the thrill of the hunt that really made you feel alive.

All of Boston’s BIG stores had basements, but none carried the magic and mystery of Filene’s Basement!

Today I present a tribute to Filene’s Basement that spans from the very early days up until the late 1970’s and the opening of other “Basement” locations in greater Massachusetts.

Some things never changed about the basement....the logo remained fairly constant for decades with only the slight alteration to announce air conditioning from the late 1930’s through to the 1960’s, the unique automatic markdown scheme reigned supreme only in the main Boston store for many, many years and the basement decor was always no frills.....just open bin selling tables and hand-printed signs. That was Filene’s Basement!

I have found many treasures to share with you on the blog today but I think Nick DeWolf’s photos are the best tribute possible!

Nick’s perfect photos create a wonderful nostalgic peek into the soul of the real Filene’s Basement...only Nick could capture the true spirit of the place and thank heavens, for all of us.....he did just that!!

I must add that I love the photo that shows the entrance from Summer Street leading down the stairs to the two basement stores and the MBTA station. The other super shot that really rings my bell is of the signage in the subway lobby area beneath Summer Street and those classic signs leading to Filene’s Basement on one side and to Jordan’s Basement Store on the other. Now isn’t that just what true Boston shopping was all about at its retro best? Choices! And, boy did we have them!!

Enjoy!!!! Charles:-)




PS....Don't forget....I am still working on my Jordan Marsh memory project. Write me!!!!