Letter to a store president...

Many women across the country have had experiences that make them long to write a letter to the president of their favorite department store. If they did, it might go something like this:m

Dear President m:

First the good news:

A little after noon yesterday I walked through the automatic doors of your high-fashion department store. Apricot carpeting cushioned my steps. Sleek display cases framed beautiful jewelry and leather. Expensive fragrance scented the air, and music softened the hum of conversations and cash registers. You have created a monument to late-20th-century abundance, elegance, and sophistication - a fantasyland far removed from the 9-to-5 routine of my working day.

Now the bad news. I arrived at the cosmetics counter and waited. And waited. Ten minutes, according to the watch you sold me last year. It seemed like 20, and the lone salesclerk, casually chatting with another customer, still hadn't acknowledged my presence. What began as a simple errand - a lipstick refill - consumed a lunch hour.

I filled the time rehearsing speeches I'd like to deliver to you. ''All I wanted was one $6 item,'' I would say in my calmest voice. ''Why should it be so hard to get a store to take my money?''

I speak, Mr. President, for the ranks of working women - time-short shoppers who must increasingly spend precious lunch hours and evenings on routine errands. You have your problems, too. I understand that. Faced with rising overhead and lower profits, you and other store presidents must trim sales staffs. But the result is one of the economic ironies of the '80s: beautiful stores, dazzling displays, an abundance of merchandise, willing customers - and not enough clerks to serve them. Cumulative evidence suggests that in some stores the old motto, ''Service with a smile,'' has been updated to read, ''Service in a while.''

Even the language signals a shift. Once you called us customers. Now you call us consumers - a cold, impersonal word that seems to imply we will consume - buy - automatically, without service.

But if the vocabulary has changed, my shopping needs have not. There's a question of priorities here, Mr. President. Your store designers have super-chic ideas, but do they have the customer - I mean the consumer - in mind? They talk a good game of ''traffic pattern'' and ''logical adjacency,'' but sometimes you need a flashlight to see your ''path of easy access.''

Store designers refer to ''darker tonalities'' and ''darker light output.'' We consumers call it the twilight zone as we play guessing games on how a new sport coat will look in broad daylight. If stores must be darker - for noble energy-saving reasons - good light (preferably incandescent rather than fluorescent) should still be plentiful in fitting rooms.

And speaking of fitting rooms, after trekking across all those apricot carpets and ballroom-like foyers, why must we end up in closets? ''Room'' has become a misnomer for many of these definitely unroomy spaces. One cubicle in the girls' department of an East Coast department store measures 2 1/2 by 4 feet - manageable for a child, perhaps, but a nearly impossible squeeze when mothers need to help young daughters. Hooks (plural!), a seat, a mirror, and a shelf for handbag or briefcase should be standard equipment in every fitting room.

More on mirrors, Mr. President. When mirror-mirror-on-the-wall is hidden behind a mannequin, a giant schefflera plant, or a piece of contemporary sculpture, it's hard to tell which is the fairest garment of all. Even three-way mirrors, once common fixtures in every clothing department, are becoming an endangered species. Mirrors ought to be available where customers need them: near counters and clothing racks. (Those on ceilings and along escalators may be striking decorative elements, but they don't count.)

Then there's your little sport of keeping sizes and prices a state secret. Fumbling around for elusive size tags - checking necklines, waistlines, and seams - can discourage even the most enthusiastic shopper. Sizes should be clearly marked on every garment, preferably on a color-coded hangtag (purple for size 6, perhaps, yellow for size 8, etc.). Why should anyone have to decipher an obscure code known only to clerks and a few regular customers? Is 06214, for example, a size 4, a 14, or a 6?

Price tags discreetly tucked up in sleeves or down in necklines can be equally annoying. If the whole point of retailing is to sell, why be coy about making basic information easily available?

Also, whatever became of chairs? The bench here and there for a shopper to recoup on? Gone with the mirrors and the bright lights!

''Retailing is theater today,'' a Boston department store executive was quoted as saying on the eve of a lavish foreign promotion for his store. ''We have to do special things to make it exciting to shop at our stores. I think you have to create the drama, the excitement, to get people to want to shop at your store versus somebody else's.''

Some of us would argue that there's already enough excitement in shopping, with 86 different bed sheets to choose from when you add up all the selections of color, pattern, and fabric. We would gladly settle for less theater and more clerks. Help, Mr. President, in every sense of the word.

I'm sure many shoppers enjoy all that marble sculpture and all those seminars every store sponsors nowadays. But I have to wonder: How many clerks' salaries do they cost?

Please consider all this in the nature of a suggestion box rather than a complaint department. There's much to like about your store, and this is merely one customer's attempt to help you and your staff make shopping the pleasure it can and should be.

Yours sincerely,

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