Last week I had the “pleasure” of leaving the Sunshine State to head up north to Pennsylvania to visit family, friends and the bird known as “Tom.”
Having lived in Florida for several years now, let’s just say that northeast winters take their toll on this old body of mine. When I lived “up north” it wasn’t uncommon to see me walking around in shorts and a golf shirt when the temperatures were hovering around zero. However, this last visit proved to me that all this Florida sunshine has made me somewhat of a wuss when it comes to the cold.
As I was packing for the trip, I threw a couple pair of shorts into my suitcase, thinking “eh, it’s not going to be that cold.” Let’s just say that my first stop after arriving was at Target. For a wool coat and a pair of flannel pajamas.
For the week or so I was there, I shivered, burned more natural gas in the fireplace in seven days than I used to in a year, and aggravated my friend Robb by turning the heat up so high in the car that sweat beads would form on his forehead. (And he STILL made breakfast! Twice.)
One of the stops during my visit was to a department store in downtown Wilkes-Barre that, like the city itself, hasn’t changed in 40 years. As I was warming up to a bowl of chili and a bottle of beer with my friends Susan and Dee, one of the ladies said, “when was the last time you went Boscoving?”
(You see, Boscov’s is the name of the department store and the act of shopping there is called Boscoving.”)
As I held back laughter, I said, “I haven’t been in Boscov’s since the late 80’s! Do people really still shop there?” I tried to hold back any further laughter as they said in unison, “It’s their busiest store!”
That’s not saying too much for Boscov’s.
Immediately the two swooped me up and took me Boscoving.
Upon entering the store you’re immediately taken back to a time many of us want to forget. Marquee lighting adorns the ceilings, although none of it is lit. Neon signs saying “Young Men” with no “s” and “Toys” light up the dimly lit décor that hasn’t changed since Hoover was president. The tile floors are uneven to the point where you wonder if you’ve had too many beers, even though you never drank and the carpet… well, we won’t even go there.
Ceiling tiles long overdue for replacement seem to get hidden in the darkness due to unimaginable amount of burned out fluorescent fixtures and there’s an overwhelming scent of mildew, mold and Jean Nate that tends to overpower the senses.
In other words, the place is a complete and utter shit hole.
As we rode the escalator – a Westinghouse 2-foot width job that probably should be in a museum somewhere – from floor to floor, I remarked about how crazy it is that a place like this survives. I began to wonder to if the people in the store are just there to avoid being on the street in the cold, or if they’re actually buying the stuff that clutters every inch of sales space.
From the basement with a complete selection of “As Seen on TV” products and a restaurant that was offering “Holiday Meals” for only $8.95 to the top floor mattress department where sections were marked off by yellow caution tape and an unimaginable stench, we hit each floor laughing-all-the-way.
In perfect holiday style, there was a Santa Claus available for photos. He was buried in the basement in a dimly lit corner sitting on a non-descript chair, in a sea of fake Christmas trees, all by himself looking lonelier than a drunk without a bottle.
If depression had a name, it would be Boscov. The same Boscov who was a beneficiary of state funds during the Rendell administration to keep his stores afloat while other businesses shut down. You see, Al Boscov, the chain’s owner, was a contributor to Gov. Ed Rendell’s campaigns, and in the world of politics and seedy department stores, back scratching is a spectator sport with a large purse going to the winner.
Perhaps there is a place in today’s world for a store like Boscov’s. There’s not many department stores left like this piece of deteriorating history. Sure you have your Macy’s, your Nordstrom’s and your Saks Fifth Avenue…. but those are polished and refined – to an extent. Boscov’s certainly isn’t.
I’m sure they have great deals! The selection of Alfred Dunner women’s wear, velvet onesies, Christmas sweaters, and Sans-a-Belt pants is hard to beat. But then again…. ah never mind.
While I didn’t buy Perfect Polly, the My Pillow or the Schtickie, I did enjoy the trip through history and got to see a pay phone.
And enjoyed the company of friends.
Even if one of them did buy the plastic bird that sings.