I spent some time in Saks and was lucky enough to chat up the store detective and a very kind woman named Patti at the service desk. We talked about many different aspects of the store -- its exclusive services, its security measures (especially to prevent identity fraud -- a problem they have struggled with in the past), how loud it is inside, the sundry things that customers ask and demand, the number of times they try to return soiled, worn, and tattered clothing (ie Hermès scarves) that they've purchased two years prior, the way its better to work in the men's department than in the women's because men can't be bothered to return things so employees don't lose commission, the best sold products (among them a $200 plastic watch that looks like it came straight out of a drugstore candy machine)...
What most piqued my interest was the store's struggle to keep it's NY-based clientele. Patti explained to me that swank uptown residents, once the staple of Saks, are no longer coming down as far as 45th. They stop at Bergdorf's, where all of Manhattan's big money still shops. While Bergdorf's has managed to retain its classic elegance, Saks has had to sell itself short and embrace a younger, trendier customer, often a tourist. (Russian, Japanese, or Dubaian, to be precise).
Bringing New Yorker's back to Saks -- a piece that explores the market strategy/evolution of the department store giant might be a topic worth investigating as a longer story. I jotted down plenty of names and numbers, and even met the head of the Saks shoe department on my way out. He's a thirty something from Virginia with an accent slightly reminiscent of Forrest Gump's. The night before I met him, he had attended a benefit where Aretha Franklin was singing. She kept taking heavy breaths between notes, and finally someone just cried out "Get on a treadmill!" He thought this was particularly entertaining and very much enjoyed the jumbo shrimp during cocktail hour.
Ah yes, Saks does seem to be lacking some class these days.