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Even in bankruptcy lessons not learned

Submitted by on Monday, 24 November 2008 No Comment

Dear Mervyns,

Oh, how I loved you in my single days.

I’ll admit: I was more of a blitzkrieg buyer that a bargain hunter back then, rolling through the store to restock on professional but stylish clothing, looking for sale items but not letting lack of a markdown stop me. The quality was decent — I still wear many decade-old turtlenecks — and the prices weren’t ridiculous.

The first clothing I dared buy for baby Big Guy came from one of your stores. It was a blue puppy-dog towel-robe — with matching puppet wash cloth — bought soon after I’d crossed the three-month mark and the amnio confirmed a boy. I’d been too nervous to buy any earlier.

But not long after that, you started changing. Or maybe you’d been that way all along and I’d never noticed before my budget had to stretch to cover day care and clothing for two kids.

First, the boys’ clothes started shrinking, not in size but in floor space. One particularly frustrating trip I couldn’t even find socks without ruffles and bows. Do baby boys not deserve toasty tootsies, too?

Shortly after Little Guy came along, you were sold to a private investment firm with ideas about returning you to profitability. They were wrong.

Seems that part of the plan was price inflation. Mark merchandise at exorbitant prices, giving you plenty of room to trumpet eye-catching price cuts and super sales later. Except the consumer caught on: Wait for the sale.

Meanwhile, your boys clothing got — and I’m trying to put this as gently as I can — ugly. When Big Guy was 2, I bought his entire winter wardrobe there. Complete sets — jacket, pants, shirt — of licensed character outfits for $12. Over the next two years, the characters disappeared as the prices skyrocketed.

Soon, I visiting you only for Big Guy’s jeans. The High Sierra brand often would go “on sale” for $7, and that was about the best bargain in town. I turned to Target for routine shopping and Kohl’s for end-of-season sales. Now that’s a chain that means it when it says “clearance sale.”

You, my single-girl love, had priced yourself out of my market. And you’re still doing it, even in the throes of your “going out of business sale.”

Saturday, Big Guy’s favorite High Sierras were $28, marked down 40 percent. That’s $11.20 or almost 160 percent of your former sale price. Oh, and those Batman pajamas originally priced $28 and “reduced” to $17? That’s Target’s regular price. They’re on sale there now for $13.

I’m not fooled. Neither are a lot of other shoppers. We won’t be back until you’re desperate enough to offer real bargains, not fake ones designed to squeeze every last cent out of us before you pack up your bad debt and close the doors.

“If you took away the element of price, the product Mervyns has been selling could be found anywhere,” a retail industry analyst told the San Francisco Chronicle last month.

These days, the price isn’t close to competitive. Hasn’t been for years.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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