New York is like no other place in the world, and Bloomingdale’s is like no other store in the world. The great metropolis and the iconic retailer have always demonstrated a toughness and a single-minded determination to move forward. The Big Apple has consistently bounced back even in the face of unimaginable tragedies and challenges. Whether it was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, the edge of bankruptcy in the early 1970s, the devastating events of 9/11 in 2001, or the destruction of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York toughness as well as its quintessential upbeat attitude have always propelled it away from the clutches of disaster.
New York, like much of the country, is now embroiled in the throes of an insidious virus and festering social unrest. And in the midst of these challenges, Bloomingdale’s is helping to set the tone for a New York-style bounce back. Retail has long been a litmus for the state of our society, and a reflection of what is happening in the news. Retail also has the ability to influence social behavior and move community emotion. With that mantle of responsibility, Bloomingdale’s took the lead in disseminating a positive perspective in these undeniably challenging times.
Like so many other stores in Manhattan, Bloomingdale’s boarded up the windows of its SoHo store. Unlike the other stores however, Bloomingdale’s wasn't happy with the message sent by the raw plywood barricades. Marco Santini, a local New York City artist, had completed many painting installations the past year at a few Bloomingdale’s locations. Bloomingdale’s has a proud, long history of collaborating with local talent, so it was natural for them to collaborate with the talented Santini.
Leigh Ann Tischler, Bloomingdale’s Director of Visual Windows and Special Visual In-Store Campaigns, first met Santini through Sarah Shaw, VP and General Manager of the 59th St. Flagship. For a time, Shaw was also overseeing the SoHo store. This past April, Santini created an upbeat, inspirational mural on the barricaded windows of the retailer’s SoHo location entitled, “Mural of Appreciation.” Dedicated to the frontline first responders, the installation was perfectly timed to coincide with Earth Day. Santini’s vision added a burst of color in prismatic shapes of yellow, red, orange, blue, purple and green to the SoHo cityscape. His spectrum of tints and tones, all delineated with a black outline, graphically framed positive and encouraging messages to all who passed by. The colorful composition created a stained glass-like effect, brightening an otherwise bleak and bleary sidewalk scene.
After the death of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, protests spread worldwide in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. During the protests in New York, there was significant damage throughout SoHo and many other areas. There was a frightening burning of a police vehicle right in front of the SoHo store, and while the store was subjected to several nights of heavy looting and resultant damage, Santini’s mural with his message of unity and diversity, remained intact.
Tischler, like so many others in the retail industry, was furloughed early on in the pandemic. Unrelenting, when the time was right and safety protocols were put in place, Bloomingdale’s reopened. “I returned from furlough on June 11, and one of the first things Sarah asked was how can we continue Marco’s message,” recalled Tischler. “We had already committed the Lexington Avenue windows, but had an open slot on Third Avenue in September.
“We decided to use the Third Avenue slot to tell Marco’s SoHo story in a men’s fashion statement that included the barricade panels as a backdrop. We wanted to continue Marco’s message that we are stronger because of our differences: we are all the same, we are all different, and that is beautiful.”
Tischler explained that she and her team also curated a gallery installation on the second floor of the flagship to continue the message. “We installed some of the barricade panels with a 3-D model of the SoHo store and the police car in front. In addition, we also showcased some of Marco’s other art.”
The reaction to the windows, from store employees to the executive committee members, and the many passersby on Third Avenue, was quite moving and supportive. “I had several people send photos of the windows and messages of appreciation, praising Bloomingdale’s for being supportive of the community and for looking to a brighter future.”
Tischler recalled seeing the devastation caused by the looting when she returned to her job in June. “Walking around SoHo and seeing all the damaged storefronts and boards was not only devastating, it will be ingrained in my mind forever,” she said.
Tischler, like the true New Yorker she is, and everyone else on the Bloomingdale’s team, are proud that they were able to send a positive and uplifting message in these most challenging times.
Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.