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‘,& ‘”ks .,”TRFN Itt\\ Owner: Federated Department Stores, Inc. Headquarters: Cincinnati, Ohio 1976 Sales: $4.5 billion Other Subsidiaries: Bloomingdale’s, Abraham & Straus, Filene’s, I. Magnin & Co., Ralph’s Supermarkets Rich’s Owner: Manhattan Industries, Inc. Headquarters: New York City 1976 Sales: $271 million Other Subsidiaries: Manhattan Shirt Co., The Lady Manhattan Co., Gideon Jewelry Ltd., and 4 other department stores Shopping for facts Remember the rush just before Christmas, when shoppers crowded into department stores and it was nearly impossible to get someone to wait on you? If you think that was exasperating, multiply the experience by 100 and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to quiz department store executives for details on their conglomerate ownership or last year’s sales volume. Now that’s exasperation. Corporate executives are not used to questioning from reporters, and, when reached on the phone, are far from cooperative. Their responses to my inquiries ranged from outpourings of evasive charm to suggestions that I buzz off. Most assumed defensive postures no matter how cheery my tone, shunting me off from office to office and even town to town . as I searched for the elusive Authority who could share such sensational secrets as Joske’s 1976 sales figures. Unfortunately. the Authority was always “in conference” and would call back, but never did. One fellow at Titche’s refused to talk with me unless I would let him review my piece before its publication. It felt good to tell one of them “no” for a change. Then there was the general mer chandising manager of Frost Bros., who flatly refused to answer any questions on any subject: “You can call us uncoopera tive,” he said, ” but I just don’t talk to the press.” I was most taken with the Hous ton retail chief of Penney’s, who told me that it was illegal to release sales infor mation. “There’s a federal law prohibit ing publication of any information that affect the stock market,” he said. Margaret Watson “Since the conglomerate came in, everything is dollars and cents,” confides a Neiman’s clerk, nostalgic for the good gone day _s when the emphasis was mostly caviar and class. “They’ve stopped innovating,” observes a competitor. “With expansion they are having a hard enough time just preserving their integrity without transplanting it to Washington and Chicago and Newport Beach.” And some shoppers sense a loss of exclusivity when they learn that an item is available not only in Dallas but also in Atlanta and California and just about everywhere else. “Look, when something is duplicated, it just diminishes in value,” a wellturned-out shopper remarked to me when I was in the Main and Ervay store one day last month. According to Robert Finklea, coauthor of a D Magazine story on “The Changing Value of Your Neiman-Marcus Label,” the store has unfortunately followed a nationwide trend toward “family stores turning into larger chains, looking at the profit margin. . . . The volume becomes more important than the service.” A former Neiman’s executive, who asked not to be identified, corroborated rumors of decline. “The rich ladies who used to hot-foot it down to Neiman’s every time a saleslady calledwell, two-thirds of them don’t do that any more. They go to the chic little North Dallas boutiques. Lester Melnick’s women’s shops took the sportswear business away from Neiman’s. How? By doing everything he was taught when he worked at ‘The Store.’ And ‘The Store,’ in the meantime, isn’t doing it.” Melnick himself professes only respect and affection for his alma mater and maintains that the big difference between his string of six local shops and Neiman’s national chain of nine going on eleven is flexibility. “We are not going through the strata of management found in chain stores like Neiman’s.” For example, the minute new fashions arrive at the Dallas Apparel Mart, smaller stores, because of their freedom from large-volume constraints, can buy and advertise Paris’ most outrageous little frocks within a few days. Even if the 13 THE TEXAS OBSERVER