McAlpin's down-home style fits us

Monday, May 18, 1998

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They never pretended to be more than they were.

And we like that around here.

Simple honesty makes us feel comfortable.

We show our appreciation with our loyalty. And no one could have been more loyal than Greater Cincinnati to McAlpin's.

But now McAlpin's has been sold.

Dillard's is buying Mercantile, McAlpin's parent company. Dillard's tends to put its name on any stores it owns.

When the ''McAlpin's'' signs come down and the ''Dillard's'' signs go up, Greater Cincinnatians will miss a name they've known and trusted to be down- to-earth for 146 years.

So it's good-bye, McAlpin's.

For my family, it's goodbye, ''Favorite Store.'' That's what we jokingly call McAlpin's. And we're only half-kidding.

Not chic

Everybody in the family knows other department stores around here are more chi-chi (that's West Side for flashy and a tad more expensive). And we even admit to shopping those places from time to time.

We knew McAlpin's wasn't totally clueless when it came to style and class. It sold Waterford crystal. It sold designer clothes with labels that turned the dying-to-be-noticed into walking billboards.

But, we also knew McAlpin's had polyester in its veins and thick-soled shoes on its feet. Still, for all its faults, it was our favorite store. McAlpin's was sensible.

The other department stores were palaces of mirrors and chrome-bright spotlights. They sold clothes with music videos in the background and heftier price tags to help pay for all that atmosphere. They sold stuff, we suspected, that we really didn't need. Why else would someone turn the dress department into a disco?

Filled needs

McAlpin's sold what you needed.

Need a shirt? You went to McAlpin's and bought one.

Need pants, a coat, a belt, a sweater? You went to McAlpin's.

McAlpin's customers didn't need a taste of club life to buy what they needed.

The stores with ''McAlpin's'' on the door also appealed to many Cincinnatians' thrifty never-throw-anything-out ethic.

Cord break on your old Venetian blinds? McAlpin's sold replacements by the yard.

The aisles in McAlpin's stores are narrow and the display tables piled with mountains of merchandise. To the uninitiated, the stores look cluttered. But to Cincinnatians, that look suggests there are plenty of goods in stock and bargains to find.

Personally, I liked their boxes.

After making a purchase, you could always ask the clerk for one of McAlpin's plain brown boxes. The surface of these boxes is lightly pinstriped, like the wrapping paper old- fashioned drug stores once used to wrap bottles of medicine and boxes of pills.

These no-frills boxes could be recycled. They could hold that gift you bought for your uncle's retirement party. And, they're roomy enough to preserve those bows you save every year and swear you'll re-use at Christmastime.

McAlpin's logo sits unobtrusively on the lower right-hand corner of each box's lid. The lettering is colored turquoise. (Trend-oids now call that teal.)

Something about those boxes was comforting and simple and useful. Shopping at this level fills a practical need, not an emotional vacuum.

So, OK. I admit it. Fashion to me is a bunch of foolishness. And, yes, I'll miss the dull comfort of McAlpin's the next time I need a shirt.

Or a cord to fix my blinds.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

RADEL ARCHIVES