A Tale of Two Christmas Departments: Kmart and Bergdorf Goodman


Could Kmart, perhaps the saddest emporium in New York, have gotten a good deal on leftover kitsch from the defunct Coca-Cola theme store on Fifth Avenue? This holiday season, Kmart is selling not just a red-scarfed polar bear leaning on an old-fashioned Coke machine (it’s a cookie jar) but an sunglass-wearing, sax-playing animated bear in a Coke vest who looks like Bill Clinton and plays a version of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” that segues into “It’s the Real Thing.”

This year, the Astor Place Kmart has moved its Christmas department from the prime real estate at the top of the escalator to a vaster expanse toward the back of the store, a no-man’s-land between childrens’ clothes (one of the store’s relative strengths) and housewares (a bit under the weather, what with Martha’s incarceration). The atmosphere here, let it be said, leaves something to be desired: The lighting is unforgiving, the sales help non-existent, and instead of carols, the p.a. system has a guy hawking Kmart gifts cards. (Please, friends: No.)

In any case, seasonal anthropomorphism reigns: In addition to those Coke bears, there’s a plush white teddy with a red cap who has “2004” tattooed in gold on one paw (making it difficult to regift him for next Christmas); an amphibian who croaks “Joy to the World” (the Creedence Clearwater tune, not the other one); and a Rockin’ Reindeer who also sings, plus his nose lights up.

Kmart, it seems, is convinced you want items that not only take up a lot of room in your apartment but will add to the general holiday cacophony. A 60-inch animated Santa promises both singing and dancing, though he’s hidden in a beat-up cardboard box so it is hard to know just how active he gets; another Santa claims that once in your house, he’ll tip his hat and spin his lighted snowflakes.

If red-suited men and babbling animals don’t appeal, Kmart offers an alternative holiday vision: the idealized small town, a sort of shrunken version of Bedford Falls. An eight-piece set called a Candle Garden has snowmen and trees in a bucolic setting far from the East Village; a company called Coventry Cave specializes in tiny buildings (sold separately) including a hook and ladder company—in case the fire over at Candle Garden gets out of hand—and a tiny shop named Diana’s Bakery, which, like the other small businesses fueling this fantasia, have not been put out of business by the miniature Kmart that’s opened next door.

Meanwhile, 50 blocks uptown, Christmas has arrived at Bergdorf Goodman, where the holiday ephemera is sold in its own elegant room on the store’s seventh floor, an aerie with elegant dark-wood floors and piped-in 1940s arrangements of songs like “Let It Snow.” (No gift card announcements here.) Which is not to say BG doesn’t have some things in common with the Big K: For $2000 you can get a giant toy cat or a goat dressed in a medieval costume, though unlike the critters at Kmart, these don’t sing or cavort around. (Like the trophy wives trolling Bergdorf’s aisles, you’re meant to merely admire their good looks.)

Still, BG has some stuff Kmart never dreamed of. A knitted item that appears to be either a very peculiar glove or an even stranger Christmas stocking turns out to be an outfit for Fido. It’s a wintry green and trimmed with fake fur, which is a good thing, since it’s a well know fact that dogs—and other live animals—draw the line at wearing the pelts of other species.

If you realize at the last minute that you want a live tree but lack that all-mportant accessory, the needle-gathering decorative scarf known as a tree skirt, Bergdorf’s has a gorgeous example in blue, appliquéd with white doves, for $595.

Or you can pick one up at Kmart, which coincidentally offers the same sentiment as the one at BG for $575 less. It’s blue too, but instead of birds, the word peace is embroidered tastefully in ivory script.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 14, 2004

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