Dana McGarry, her short blond hair stirred by a light gust of wind, stood on Fifth Avenue in front of the display windows of the B. Altman department store on the day after Thanksgiving, November, 1974. Dana, public relations and special events coordinator for the store, pulled her Brooks Brothers camel hair polo coat tighter around her slim, shapely frame. Shoppers hurried past her, huddled in overcoats as mild snow flurries coated the streets with a fine white powder. It was now officially Christmas season, and Dana sensed a pleasant urgency in the air as people rushed to find the perfect gift or simply meet a friend for lunch. The frenetic pace of life in Manhattan continued to swell the sidewalks, but pedestrians were more inclined to tender a smile instead of a grimace if they bumped into one another. Dana often told her friends that Christmas was a time when there was a temporary truce between true believers and grinches. As far as business was concerned, she was pleased to hear the cash registers of B. Altman singing their secular carols inside the store, but she also still believed that the holidays brought magic and balance, however briefly, into a world of routine and ten-hour workdays.
Balance? Dana smiled wistfully, for balance was becoming harder to achieve. She was only twenty-nine, but the pressures of life were already assaulting her mind and spirit in numerous ways. She tried to please multiple people in B. Altman’s corporate offices on a daily basis, not an easy task given that the seasoned professionals who were grooming her had various agendas, not all of which tallied with each other. And then there was her marriage to Brett McGarry, a litigator at a Wall Street law firm. Brett was as busy as she, and simultaneously attending to her career and the needs of her husband was sometimes difficult, if not downright burdensome. His needs? Well, “demands” would be a more accurate description of what Dana had to contend with. Although Brett didn’t overtly order Dana around, he informed her of what he would or would not be able to do with her on any given day. His growing air of superiority was extremely subtle and couched in affable smiles that most of Dana’s friends could not accurately read.
Dana’s eyes had become unfocused as she stared past the display window, but she quickly snapped her attention back to the present moment. People, coated with a dusting of light snow, continued to stream through the portico outside B. Altman’s. Magic and balance still held the better claim on Friday, November 29. She’d worry about Brett later.
“I think they like it,” commented Andrew Ricci, display director for the store, as he stood to Dana’s left, referring to the happy, animated shoppers. “Good idea, Mark. Christmas was the right time to bring in live mannequins.” Andrew, slender and dressed in a gray suit with sweater vest, wiped snowflakes from his salt and pepper hair, wavy and combed straight back. Even as Andrew said this, a little girl waved both hands, trying to get the attention of one of the Sugar Plum Fairies behind the window, saying over and over, “I saw her blink! I did! I saw her blink!”
Mark Tepper was the president of the Tepper Display Company, and B. Altman had been a good account for ten years. “You’re welcome. I want you guys to look good. Bloomie’s is just twenty-five blocks away,” said the suave president, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit. He stood to Dana’s right. His light brown hair was parted neatly above a broad forehead, and he had intense blue eyes that could capture the slightest nuance. He was of average height, in good physical shape, and his ideas seemed to emanate from a bottomless reservoir of energy. “You can’t go wrong with a Nutcracker theme.” Mark stepped back and surveyed the scene. “Now if I could only figure out a way to make the live mannequins stop blinking,” he said with a grin.
Dana and Andrew laughed at Mark’s quick wit, the result of keen intelligence combined with a sophisticated playfulness. He could be highly focused without taking himself too seriously.
Andrew rubbed his hands together and exhaled, his breath drifting away in a small cloud of vapor. “Say, would you two mind coming inside to look at the blueprints for the cosmetic department? I have to make one change.”
Dana, like all B. Altman employees, was energized by the transformation of her beloved store, and being a close friend of Andrew’s, she knew of changes starting with the planning stage. More than a year ago, when Dana first learned that the cosmetic department would be renovated, she thought it might bode well for her idea to add a teen makeup section.
Inside, the store was glowing from Christmas decorations, chandeliers, and red-capped mercury lamps illuminating counters that curved and zigzagged across the main floor in every direction. A decorated tree in the center of the main floor rose fifteen feet into the air, a grand focal point for the holiday atmosphere. Andrew led the group to one of the counters in the existing cosmetic department and unrolled a set of blueprints he’d stored beneath the glass counter. The trio would be undisturbed since holiday shoppers were buzzing past them on their way to the gift departments, many to see the new million-dollar menswear section that opened the previous month and extended the entire block along 34th Street.
“We’re aiming for the new department to open the first week of May,” Andrew said, “followed by a black tie gala.” He poked his index finger onto the center of the blueprints for emphasis. He then looked up proudly and pointed to a section of the floor where the new cosmetic department would be installed.
“Good placement,” Mark said. “And nice layout, too.” Mark usually spoke rapidly and in short sentences. Insightful, he sized things up quickly and didn’t waste time. It was another aspect of his confidence that allowed him to act professionally without losing his innate charm. He also had a knack for including everyone around him in any discussion.
“So what does the public relations and special events coordinator think?” he asked, pivoting to face Dana, sensing she had something to say.
Dana cocked her head slightly while mischievously narrowing her eyes. “I think we shouldn’t forget that a teen makeup section is just as important as an updated cosmetic department. Otherwise, why are we bothering to update it in the first place? Our demographic is getting younger. Girls today are wearing makeup by the time they’re fourteen.”
Dana turned to Andrew. “What do you think, Mr. Ricci?”
Andrew chuckled at Dana’s use of his surname, which she occasionally did when talking business with her friend and confidante. Andrew was the quintessential Renaissance man—artist, craftsman, and cook. He and Dana attended art lectures at the Met, and he had personally taken Dana under his wing to give her what he called “a gay man’s culinary expertise” when her husband announced they were hosting a dinner party for a few of the firm’s partners. Andrew was not only Dana’s close friend, but he was also a consummate professional in his capacity as display director. He was a passionate man, at times almost compulsive, but he commanded respect from the refined corporate culture at B. Altman.
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