Monday, November 29, 2010

Department Store Building of the ... Book

One of the greatest (and most self-conscious) department stores ever, and still operating as a Macy's -- John Wanamaker Philadelphia, at 13th and Market Streets, in the center of this photo. I could tell you about it, but I'd rather you buy Michael J. Lisicky's second department-store book, "Wanamaker's -- Meet Me at the Eagle."

I had the pleasure of listening to Michael on Saturday at one of his Philadelphia appearances and he is as knowledgeable a person on department stores as you will find. His day job? He's a symphony musician. Part of the tale of his first book, on Hutzler Brothers Company in Baltimore, is how he got from point A to point B. Plus he is the designated "answer man" on Jan Whitaker's department store blog, which is linked to over at the left.

If you're interested in department store history, buy his books.

-- Just as an aside: It may be that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is completely happy with WikiLeaks and its release of State Department memos. It may be that he's not. Just in terms of the name, though, it shows again what happens when you create a shiny new car and don't think of what happens when Mayhem jumps up and down above it yelling "Shaky, shaky." The fact that Ward Cunningham used a Hawaiian word for "fast" to create a software program allowing for easy universal updating of text is probably not going to mean much to John Q. Public, who could be perhaps not forgiven but possibly understood if he assumed that Wikipedia somehow was involved in a cabal to bring down world diplomacy and attack America's presumed interests. That doesn't make it more correct or more right than any other stereotyping. (Wonder what people would think today of the old Hollywood hotspot the Garden of Allah?) It is, though, why utopianism never succeeds, although it does have successes along the way while also causing damage. John Q. is not a utopian. John Q. is suspicious, not terribly well informed, and interested in self-preservation above all else.

I haven't forgiven Editor and Publisher for firing Mark Fitzgerald and his staff, but I will support its editorial in the December issue while acknowledging it shows the divide. When the Duncan McIntosh Co. bought E&P after its brief closure, it said it wanted a magazine devoted to the business side of newspapers as opposed to being another editorial review. Its editorial is consistent with that, attacking "self-absorbed 'experts' who most likely have never sold advertising in a depressed economy, negotiated contracts with labor unions, kept pace with evolving technology, or planned for fluctuating newsprint prices -- all the while meeting payroll..." But that is the journalistic dream of the Internet -- where journalism would exist without people worrying about selling advertising, negotiating contracts, etc. Where journalism would be a profession without the barnacles of the newspaper and magazine businesses. Where the individual journalism would never have to compromise because of press deadlines or length restrictions or presumed audience interest. Where we could have a world where nothing would ever be behind the curtain. Where the individual journalist would be as free as WikiLeaks to determine what was in the public good, and present it for the edification of the public.

Fine. But when that curtain comes down, watch out for John Q's reaction.

No comments: