More than a store

A fond farewell to Foley's (um... Macy's)

A fond farewell to Foley's (um... Macy's)

Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_old Foley's
Postcard touting the "new" downtown Foley's circa 1956 Courtesy of Marie Brannon
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Foley Bros. on Main Street in Houston circa 1929 Photo by Cecil Thomson Courtesy of Chron.com
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One of the Foley's Christmastime window displays
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Foley Bros. employees circa 1928 Courtesy of Story Sloane Collection
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_Thanksgiving parade
The 1962 Foley's Thanksgiving Day Parade Photo by Dell Van Dusen / Post File Courtesy of Chron.com
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President John F. Kennedy rides past the downtown Houston Foley's store on Main Street Courtesy of Houston Chronicle
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A Foley's ad circa 1966 Courtesy of University of Houston
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_old Foley's
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_Foley Bros.
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_Christmas window 2
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_1928 employees
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_Thanksgiving parade
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_kennedy
Austin Photo: News_olga_Foley's Macy's close_January 2012_Foley's ad

I sometimes say 'Foley’s' when I mean 'Macy’s' but it’s an understandable mistake since I grew up shopping and roaming the huge multi-story retail giant while growing up near downtown Houston.

It’s where I learned to spot a great bargain during a Red Apple sale! It’s where I developed my own fashion style. It’s where I bought my first professional suit after graduating from the University of Texas. And it’s the store that offered a full-service Bridal Registry for me and my husband nearly 25 years ago. It’s also where I modeled and served as a member of the Foley’s Teen Board, and as a result, it’s where I first learned the importance of community service.

So I was sad when I read the CultureMap news alert detailing Macy’s decision to close its downtown Houston store.

How is that possible when Macy’s/Foley’s has long been the center of retail activity for generations of Bayou City residents?

A religious experience

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours I spent in Foleys’s during my childhood and teen years. My grandmother and mother would take me shopping there. Both women insisted on dressing in their Sunday best to go to Foley’s. Maybe that’s why, for me, shopping at the downtown Foley’s store was much like a religious experience.

My 92 year old abuela is the only person I know who called it Foley Brothers (the original name) her entire life. I felt like a sophisticated shopper every time I stepped off the escalator or exited the elevator to browse the various departments.

Foley’s was across the street from Battlesteins and not too far from Sakowitz and Joske’s. That trio of legendary department stores is long gone from  downtown Houston (although Joske’s later became Dillards) — so I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Macy’s is vacating its downtown flagship store.

Not surprising, but very sad.

Even after Foley’s/Macy’s disappears from among the high rises — it will not soon be forgotten and Foley’s will always hold a special place in my heart.

The center of the retail world

Other teens spent their endless weekends walking around ordinary malls located along interstates linking the ‘burbs. But those of us who grew up in the shadow of downtown Houston were fortunate enough to have the elaborate retail world explode before us over multiple stories.

This one, exciting venue provided a mini-version of shopping in New York City. There was even an expansive bargain basement and an underground tunnel connecting the parking building to the store. It was great during those endless, rainy summer days in Houston.

I remember riding the bus to and from Foley’s on any Saturday afternoon. And if I was lucky, my Dad would come pick me up at the same spot on Dallas street right by one of the store entrances. Talk about convenience! 

Family

My Aunt Lucy worked at the cosmetic counter. Always looking so glamorous, she would lavishly apply samples of perfume and just a little make-up — as long as I didn’t tell my Mom. And my sister, Leah, worked in the pharmacy where she was a recognized “Million Dollar Associate”.

Yes! Foley’s catered to all its urban-dwelling customers and the thousands who worked downtown by filling prescriptions! Now that’s customer service you won't find anymore.

An education in community service

One summer in high school I worked in the Special Events Department of Foley’s. I helped organize bridal shows, special displays, product demonstrations and other in-store special events. It was fun and exciting, but the best part was the employee discount I used to build my wardrobe and more importantly to develop my own personal sense of style. Being a Foley’s associate was like a dream come true for this fashion–hungry adolescent.

As a member of the elite Foley’s Teen Board, I modeled in fashion shows, and was selected to appear in Seventeen magazine. As a Teen Board member I appeared in parades and other public events and each year, our board tackled a community service project. A memorable assignment involved spending multiple weekends painting houses and renovating a park in one of Houston’s low-income neighborhoods. It was gratifying work that introduced me to urban neighbors I would never have known otherwise.

Even for non-shoppers, Foley’s was an amazing institution. During the holidays the specially decorated storefront windows — blacked out by curtains for weeks until Thanksgiving Day — featured animated colorful characters that would rival any holiday display in NYC.

And if you wanted a perfect spot to watch the annual Foley’s/Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade you did your best to snag a spot in front of the store — even if it meant waiting for hours in chilly temperatures!

So many memories… so many purchases!!

And so I bid my personal farewell to Foley’s and to the fresh baked cookies and delicious candies served in its first floor Sweet Shoppe.

Thank you for the memories. You will be missed.

Now I have to figure out how to get to Houston in time for the big clearance sale that starts on Monday. I wonder, will my Macy’s coupons still be valid?