Filene's Basement

Shopping, Discount
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In January 2007, bargain-loving Bostonians suffered a terrible blow when it was announced that the city's landmark discount store, Filene's Basement, would shut its doors for almost two years. Filene's department store upstairs had already closed in 2006, set to be replaced by a luxury hotel, restaurant, condos and new shops. Although the Basement, on a long lease, would remain, it would undergo extensive refurbishment. Would its much-loved no-frills atmosphere, with exposed pipes, cut-price clothes piled in wooden bins and hand-painted signs proclaiming 'Bargain Alley' and 'the Vault' (the designer section) be swept away in the revamp? A Boston legend, the Basement was founded by Edward A Filene in 1908 to sell excess merchandise from his father's department store (the stores were completely separate from 1987). Soon other retailers were offloading their unsold goods on Filene - and so the 'off-price' store was born. There are now 35 branches across the country, including a swanky new (above-ground) branch in Back Bay, complete with uniformed doorman. Although it offers great discounts on designer merchandise from the likes of Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus, it lacks the famous Automatic Mark Down System, developed by its founder, which incubates thrilling bargains. In the original store, price tags are marked with the date an item is put out. The longer it remains unsold, the further its price is 'automatically' reduced - up to an additional 75% off the already discounted price. Deeply emotionally attached customers have written to the local press with their memories of the store and most dramatic finds. Among the bereft bargain-hunters is Mayor Menino, who regularly walked down from City Hall to snap up designer ties.The good news is that the biannual wedding gown sales, the 'Running of the Brides', will carry on in another location (to be announced on the website). Instituted in 1947, these are traditionally held on the Friday after Valentine's Day and in mid August. Gowns retail from $249 to $699, but some are worth $10,000. There are many tales about the Basement. One woman wrote about how she found a bridal gown with 'Maria' mysteriously written on the lining. It happened to fit her daughter Maria perfectly. Another bought a wedding dress for $12 in 1946. Subsequently, five of her friends also wore 'the buy of her life' when it was their turn to walk down the aisle. Before the addition of dressing rooms, the store's central staircase was a prime spot for peeping Toms watching women change in their lunch hour. In 1972, an escalator was installed, spoiling their furtive fun. Although the store introduced dressing rooms in 1991, some people continued to change in the open. Wily bargain-seekers have been known to try to beat the system, squirrelling away items such as brassieres in men's shoes, so they could retrieve them when they were further marked down. It is rumored that former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis hid clothing - a fruitless ploy as a crew was employed overnight to put things back. One man even wrote 'hole in leg' on the tags of suits to discourage other shoppers. There were skirmishes over items, but the Basement also had its share of love stories. In 1958, one man let a woman have a shirt if she would have coffee with him. She said yes, and yes again - six months later they were married.

Posted:

Venue name: Filene's Basement
Contact:
Address: 497 Boylston Street
at Berkeley Street
Boston

Opening hours: Open 9am-9pm Mon-Sat; 11am-7pm Sun.
Transport: Arlington T.
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