A Dallas Legend in a Precarious Bankruptcy: Neiman Marcus

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I think we all hope, pray, and believe that Neiman Marcus will survive in some shape or form. For me and many others, Neiman Marcus was, or rather is, much more than a store.

It had a profound influence in educating and shaping my taste from an early age. And the longer I reflect, the more I realize how intertwined this Dallas institution has been in my life from an early age.

My charming sister was in a junior fashion show. My first credit card was a Neiman Marcus card at 20. Naturally, I got in over my head. Not to worry the in-house credit department was very forgiving. Heaven help you now if you run a balance. Credit is now under the purview of the very business-like Capital One.

Dallas’ Redeeming Institution

When the city still bore the shameful stain of the Kennedy assassination, as a child growing up in Dallas, I could feel pride that the mother church of Neiman Marcus was in Dallas — evidence that Dallas wasn’t an uncultured backwater. And Neiman’s brought us the world it seemed.

Stanley Marcus and Grace Kelly (via Pinterest)

Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly (twice), and Sophia Loren all made pilgrimages to our hometown temple of taste.

A replica almost of my childhood painted zither.

Almost all of this was due to the energetic vision of Stanley Marcus — Mr. Stanley as he was reverentially called — whose book, Minding the Store, was an early childhood read of mine and cemented him in my pantheon of personal heroes. A Stanley sighting in the store was always a thrill but not a rarity.

Growing up in a cheerless suburb, Neiman Marcus was my first glimpse of a wider world. The toy store contained treasures from West Germany, such as my beautiful painted zither, a gift on my ninth birthday, or marionettes from England, one or two each Christmas (I cut neighbors’ grass to bankroll more). It was so very different from the shabby plastic fare on offer at other toy stores.

Legendary Events Brought The World to Dallas’ Door

Neiman Marcus Bankruptcy

Then there were the legendary Fortnights, which were, in effect, my first voyages to dream destinations like France or Japan. Each fall, the impresario Stanley would command, and an A-list celebrity would open a two week fair in the downtown store, redecorated to conjure up the theme country. The redecorated Zodiac Room atop would serve cuisine to match.

Later Neiman’s would partially finance my first trips to Europe in my 20s through their in-house travel agency. Yes, not long ago you could put a Eurail Pass on your Neiman Marcus card.

I was frequently parked at the Little Mermaid Bar as a boy while my mother got her hair done. The ham sandwiches tasted like no other. It was the first time I tasted fancy French seed mustard. Ah, and the cakes… Neiman’s had its own bakery on Haskell at Central Expressway. I still visit the Little Mermaid Bar and order a Duke of Windsor sandwich (off the menu but still made) when I’m feeling sulky.

A Shopping Experience

Neiman Marcus

The shopping experience then? After buying you handed your money or card to the clerk who disappeared behind a curtain and returned with your receipt and change — no vulgar registers in view.

They used to say that a gentleman was never seen carrying a paper bag (though Neiman’s bags were famously triumphs of graphic art). Neiman Marcus could aid you in upholding that standard by sending your purchases out on their signature UPS brown trucks which ran twice weekly. Nosey neighbors kept track of the comings and goings of the Neiman Marcus delivery trucks. 

Neiman Marcus

In Christmastime, the stores were lavishly decked out and you had to have something under the tree from Neiman’s if only to adorn the tree with their extravagant gift wrap which was the most beautiful of any store. 

My mother would buy my Oxford cloth striped shirts and corduroy pants during Last Call, in the boys’ department. That still is more or less my fall uniform to this day. Neiman’s was and remains for me what Tiffany’s was to Holly Golightly — a place you could go when you were blue to dream a little and feel that nothing bad could happen to you there.


For Mother’s Day, the writer would like to dedicate this piece to his mother Dr. Jane Prokesh, his first style guru.

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Eric Prokesh

Eric Prokesh is an interior designer whose work has appeared on HGTV, in books and publications including DHome, Southern Accents, House Beautiful, and House and Garden. In January 2005, HG named Eric one of the 50 tastemakers in America and DHome has included him as one of Dallas’ Best Designers for 10 years. Having lived most of his life in Dallas, he now calls Fort Worth home and is one of our experts on beautiful Fort Worth Dirt.

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Comments

  1. mmKaren Eubank says

    Neiman Marcus is a Dallas institution. It’s part of the very fabric of our city and difficult to imagine Dallas without it. Let’s hope there is a way for this great store to be saved.

  2. JUDITH A LIFSON says

    I agree with all of the above comments. I too grew up with Neiman Marcus being my favorite shopping experience and felt very lucky to ever get any piece of clothing from there. I remember my very first cashmere sweater set was an NM purchase and I also enjoyed and loved all of The Fortnights. They were so special.

  3. Rabbi Hedda LaCasa says

    Classic department stores; e.g., Neiman Marcus, are woven into the fabric of their communities, and very few exist today. I fondly remember Abraham and Straus in Brooklyn, Filene’s in Boston, B.Altman, Bonwit Teller, and Lord & Taylor in New York, Bamberger’s in Newark, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge & Clothier, and Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, and Gump’s and I. Magnin in San Francisco. Chapter 11 bankruptcies are grim, although not necessarily death sentences. I hope that Neiman Marcus Group will exhibit the business ethics and wisdom of Stanley Marcus, extend goodwill toward its creditors, and emerge as a restructured and fiscally sound organization.

    • mmEric Prokesh says

      Two LBO’s saddled them with a crushing 6 billion in debt. They managed to repay 1.5 but the current shutdown was a gut-punch.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      Bonwit Teller? I. Magnin? Those bring back long gone memories for me more than Neiman’s. Although I did enjoy Neiman’s once they were more firmly established in Chicago. I’m glad you didn’t lump in Marshall Field’s. To me that was more pedestrian luxury.

      But in recent years, Neiman’s uniqueness and verve suffered – at least in men’s. Aside from a couple of Hawaiian shirts at the Honolulu branch (not sold elsewhere), I haven’t spent at Neiman’s in many years – if I’ve spent $100 in the past decade in Dallas I’d be surprised. I don’t wear suits and I can’t get excited about $700 sweatshirts whose claim to fame is the size of the logo printed on them. But I remember when you had to ask who made something instead of having to shield your eyes from the flashy-trashy logo.

      The Chicago store used to be packed to the rafters with luxury – that hasn’t been true for 15-20 years. It’s depressing to enter the store these days – and stay away from the largely vacant top floor. The only surprise in this reorganization is that it didn’t happen sooner.

  4. Julieann Pickering says

    I was born and raised in El Dorado Arkansas, a small town in southern Arkansas. When I was only 13yrs old I eagerly read the Seventeen magazine from cover to cover devorung the beautiful clothes. At the bottom of the page it listed the stores name that carried that exact item. I announced to my Mom the we HAD to immediately go to Dallas and buy my clothes from Neiman Marcus and when I grew up I was moving to Dallas! That was my dream and that’s exactly what I did. I came to Dallas for college and worked on Saturdays. I didnt know it at the time but working at Neimans downtown store was a right of passage for young girls working their first jobs, and our first credit card too which got in over my head and parents bailed me out, but I still have my card! It was such a fun time and I wouldn’t trade those fond memories for anything. My heart aches for what might be Neimans fate.

  5. Adam Silber Silber says

    The new Private Equity owned Neimans is nothing like which i recall in younger years. They are ot customer focused like Nordstrom unless they feel you are a top client..Unfriendliness drives consumers away in droves..The company has a terrible legal record from employees, consumers, and Attorney Generals..and the F.T.C…Stanley would never operate in such a manner

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