Sunday, December 7, 2003

Mannequins' hands are in your pockets

Peter Bronson

Here's what I bought on my imaginary $1,000 shopping spree at the Saks store in downtown Cincinnati:

I picked out a $65 white cotton T-shirt to go with my $64 baby-blue boxer shorts and $29 black socks.

I topped it off with a pair of "aged denim'' jeans ($185), a "Bobby Jones'' polo shirt ($135) and a bathrobe for just $595.

At that price, I'd have to wear that bathrobe to work, so I'll throw in a $140 dark red tie so I can pretend I'm hearing compliments when I get on the elevator and people say, "Look at that moron!''

I'd like a pair of shoes so I don't wear out those extravagant socks at $15 a foot, but the $385 Bruno Magli tasseled slip-on loafers are just a little bit beyond my budget - like everything else at Saks.

I bought a swimsuit there on sale once for $50 - and I was afraid to get it wet.

They have nice stuff - if you don't mind paying $200 for a faded denim jacket that is identical to the kind a farmworker buys for $14.

But I do mind. Boy, do I mind. I can squeeze a dollar until my fingers turn green. I can pinch a penny until Abe yells "Ouch!" I can window-shop and page through the catalogs - but I couldn't spend $135 on a cotton "Bobby Jones" polo shirt if I got the Bobby Jones golf swing included. In the places where I shop, socks come in bundles of six pairs and $65 buys a lifetime supply of ordinary white cotton T-shirts.

I belong in Saks the way Britney Spears belongs at right tackle for the Oakland Raiders. But some people were just born with a platinum no-limit MasterCard in each hand. Wealth fits them as comfortably as a Bruno Magli slip-on. They can spend like a Pentagon procurement officer with a bulging budget to justify.

Like the people who run Saks.

Here's what they've been buying on a $6.6 million spending spree, according to a story by the Enquirer's Greg Korte:

Nearly $100,000 on mannequins, including $1,856 just on mannequin hands. They spent more than $27,000 on travel - including cell-phone bills - to visit Cincinnati, and the bills are still rolling in.

Here's the best part: Those mannequin hands are in your pockets. That spending spree is paid for by taxpayers, thanks to the generous city of Cincinnati, which gave Saks $6.6 million to remodel.

I'm not sure how cell-phone bills and plane tickets for executives make the Cincinnati store more attractive, but then I have no sense of style. I could hardly tell the difference when they removed the plastic wrapper and showed off the "new'' downtown Saks store.

You'd think executives who shook down minimum-wage taxpayers to subsidize a store that sells $595 bathrobes would have a little more consideration for appearances.

Don't get me wrong. I can't stand the class-warriors who hate the wealthy and preach the politics of envy and bitterness. I was in favor of the deal to keep Saks from leaving. But then I see something like this, and I wonder if those class-warfare lunatics might possibly have a point.

"Spending it on mannequins looks bad on them,'' said new councilman Christopher Smitherman. "They're taking advantage."

He said Saks will have some explaining to do. "There's still $640,000 pending," he said, "and we will have something to say about that."

By the way, my shopping spree was over budget. But what's money to people whose boxer shorts cost as much as a ticket to the rarest event on earth - a Bengals playoff game?

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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