Bye, bye, Betsy
Shutting down Betsey Johnson: A personal memoir
My first day working at the Betsey Johnson store in the Domain was 23 days before my last. That's calendar, not workings days. I was part-time.
Yes, I knew the store was closing when I took the job. The fact that the store was closing "sometime in July" was the only reason this TV news journalist without retail experience could have ever landed the job.
My friend Rachel was a Betsey addict. She was shopping in June when manager Tara Pettinato told her the store was closing in July and since there was inventory and a sale and employees going on vacation, she needed to hire someone. But who would take a job knowing the store was closing?
Rachel immediately says "I'll do it!" Tara accepts but stresses "I still need another person!"
"My friend Heather will do it."
I was hired.
They'd always ask what my last job was. The answer "CBS News Correspondent in London" always took them by surprise as I handed over a floral dress I guessed would fit.
I was in New York City on a freelance job when I got the call as I was walking by the Flatiron building. "Be at Betsey in the Domain June 19th at 9:30 a.m. for training."
There was so much more in store than just selling dresses.
The first thing I learned was how much people adore Betsey Johnson.
Continuously one after the other would come in, look at the three four-by-six foot signs and exclaim, "you're closing?" Most were genuine, but after a while the urge to blurt, "no we're bluffing!" was surprisingly strong.
Maybe the most difficult part of the job was explaining why the store was closing. So many people assumed the rent was just too high at the Domain, and if by chance they bought something, maybe we would stay open.
Actually, Betsey Johnson filed for bankruptcy. All of her stores are now closed.
During the liquidation sale while I was working, this particular store in Austin, Texas was ranked number one in sales. Prior to liquidation it ranked fourth in sales out of Betsey's 94 stores. Manager Tara Pettinato told me it had always been in the top ten since she helped open in the Domain in March of 2007.
"So her clothes will be just be in department stores?" Well, no, not really. The line that was selling at Dillards was sent back to stores to sell during liquidation. Steve Madden bought the license to her brand, so no one really knows.
People were also very concerned about my job. "You must be so upset to lose your job." Well...
Not really knowing what to say, I tried the truth. But "I just started last Tuesday" took further explanation. They'd always ask what my last job was. The answer "CBS News Correspondent in London" always took them by surprise as I handed over a floral dress I guessed would fit.
Honestly maybe I was upset my short career as a Betsey Johnson "stylist" was nearing the end. (It wasn't about the money, I think I spent more than I made on 70-percent-off dresses and shoes.) I was enjoying meeting the people of Austin who shopped at Betsey. I liked taking a break and flirting with the cashier at nearby Starbucks. Plus my new colleagues were outstanding!
I believe service is the reason Austin's Betsey had so many loyal customers.
M friend Rachel who got me the job, attributes her love of Betsey Johnson Austin to effort and personal touch. She says she became a fan two summers ago when the store went above and beyond to find the shoes she wanted in time for her 40th birthday. And she says they sent a sweet note with them.
Tara says she remembers the note, and says "it was a mission. I wanted to make her day."
After opening the Austin store in 2007, Tara was transferred to the struggling store on the East side of Manhattan. "I turned sassy girls into selling machines," she said. "We had enormous sales gains." She worked in Manhattan a year-and-a -half before returning to Austin Betsey. But she emphasizes it was never about the sale, it was about taking the time to do the little things.
"The tiny, helpful, happy things that people hold onto and keep in their back pocket on days when there're feeling blue. I think those are the things that we remember and embrace as we march through."
As we all say goodbye to Betsey, I wish all my short term colleagues the best of luck as they begin new chapters in their lives. I also thank them for the mini-career I began and ended in 23 days.
I am also grateful for my new Betsey wardrobe.