Fashion discounter closing its doors

A going out of business banner adorns the outside of Loehmann's, home to designer clothes at up to 70 percent off.
A going out of business banner adorns the outside of Loehmann’s, home to designer clothes at up to 70 percent off.

The pickings are slim now that word is out that Loehmann’s is going the way of so many stores.  The last of the remaining 39 stores are expected to stop discounting fashion clothing and shut their doors by March 31.

Still, there were shoppers aplenty at the 93-year-old retail establishment which announced its bankruptcy and plans to close its remaining locations across 11 states.  That includes the Rockville store on Randolph Road, the Chevy Chase store on Wisconsin Avenue and the Falls Church location on Arlington Boulevard.

The discount designer store has been a draw for shoppers, including many Jews, who were seeking the perfect outfit at a fraction of its cost.

“It’s very traumatic. This was sort of the last discount store remaining in this area,” said Pat Kagan, as she checked out the last minute, even larger than usual discounts. The Potomac resident moved here from South Africa and was amazed to learn that American shoppers could go to one store and find all that they wanted.

That was 38 years ago, and she’s been coming to Loehmann’s regularly ever since.

Laura Shaska of Olney declared herself “so sad. Most of my wardrobe is from Loehmann’s,” she said. “I find fantastic $300 dresses for $39. If it’s not 70 percent off, I don’t buy it.”

Albina and Suzanna, both originally from Russia but now live in Rockville, were almost too busy checking out the remaining racks of clothing and personal items to speak of their many shopping sprees at the Rockville store.

“It’s sad. It’s not good. It was a good store,” said Albina, who didn’t give her last name.

“Now it seems, no more Loehmann’s, just Marshalls,” added her friend Suzanna, who also didn’t want her last name mentioned. “I have been coming here almost 20 years. We will miss this store. Many good things I bought here.”

Founded by Frieda Loehmann, a fashion buyer who used her knowledge and personal connections in the garment industry to start the store in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1921, Loehmann’s was incorporated in 1939 by her son, Charles, when he opened the company’s second location in the Bronx. The store went public after Frieda Loehmann’s death in 1962, and her son then began a major expansion.

In its heyday, Loehmann’s owned 100 stores across the country, but the retailer had struggled financially for decades. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on two prior occasions, in 1998 and 2010.

In the later part of the 20th century, stores such as Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Annie Sez among others offered women opportunities to buy designer clothes at reduced prices, but according to Loehmann’s owners, SB Capital Group, LLC, Tiger Capital Group, LLC and A&G Realty Partners, their property did it first.

One feature exclusive to Loehmann’s was its “backroom,” the separate area in each store that sold the more upscale fashions of high-end European and American designers.

Loehmann’s was particularly known for its communal dressing rooms, where women felt free to undress down to their undergarments despite other women and mirrors all around. Young children played and rolled around on the floor as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers freely dispensed fashion advice to anyone nearby.

Telling a fellow dressing room inhabitant that one dress was perfect, another made her look fat or the color was so wrong was common chatter in those dressing rooms. Now talk revolves around the brightly colored signs hanging from the ceiling that state how large the percentage off is for various items.

But it’s the huge “Going Out of Business” banner adorning the front of the store that signals both a sad sign of the times and a great last minute chance to grab a few more designer clothes at a fraction of their true price.

Suzanne Pollak is a senior writer at Washington Jewish Week. Simone Ellin is senior features reporter at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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