The downtown Brooks Brothers store is closing, reportedly due to unrealized plans to relocate to a new space in the long-delayed Grand Avenue project. Most will mourn the end of that branch of the upscale clothier’s 71-year-old Los Angeles tradition, and normally I would too. But this time it’s a bit personal. So instead I will mourn for those who’ve lost their jobs, but say good riddance to the establishment in my most begrudging, bitter voice.
One of my first revolving lines credit was with Brooks Brothers. I got it in 1986 or ’87. It wasn’t much, a few hundred bucks, but I was proud of it. Fast forward to when my first marriage broke apart there were a lot of reasons, but one of the prevailing ones was we were just plain young and stupid with our finances. We bought a pair of top-of-the-line VW Jettas, we splurged on laptops and desktop computers. My first cellphone was in 1988, an in-car Mitsubishi job that cost $1,200, and back then there were no free minutes — in fact you were lucky if the per-minute charge was 20 cents.It didn’t take long to run up a bill close to $1000.
That was just one example of the ridiculous crap that we couldn’t afford and wouldn’t have had except for the the scary level of credit we’d been able to build up as little more than 20-somethings with no assets.
When bills came due and past due and past-past due and then the credit cards got canceled and creditors started calling, the one company that never bothered me was Brooks Brothers in large part because at that time I owed them nothing… but that didn’t stop other companies with which I maintained zero balances from sniffing the wind and closing accounts.
When all was said and done and I’d fully scorched my credit card landscape in the early 1990s, I’d gone from having a Dayrunner organizer stuffed with plastic, to a simple wallet that held my driver license and my Brooks Brother credit card.
In this strange new ruined world of being divorced and bankrupt and 26 years old with exactly the level of credit I deserved, the first time I went to use my Brooks Brothers card, I was apprehensive. I went in to the downtown store on Figueroa and 6th needing a winter coat and wanting one of their $200 wool and leather varsity jackets. I almost left without buying one because I envisioned some alarm sounding when the cashier ran my card followed by an embarrassing confiscation. After all, just because I’d never heard from the company during my descent into debt-riddled hell didn’t mean my account was still in good standing.
But I stiffened my spine and to my relief the transaction went smoothly so that in a few minutes I was outside in the jacket and on my beloved Honda Hawk 400 motorcycle (which I’d later have to sell to make child support one month in 1991) for the much less chilly ride back to my apartment in Glendale.
I was thrilled. It was nice that Brooks Brothers cut me a break whether they meant to or not, and I returned the favor by paying off the coat as quickly as I could and vowing I’d be a customer for life.
Obviously, I wasn’t Brooks Brothers biggest buyer. In fact, I was probably one of their smallest. Over the ensuing years I’d buy a pair of slacks or sport coat here, a toiletry case there. Once I splurged and bought a Montblanc fountain Pen with the clip engraved with “Brooks Bros.” And every time I’d pay it off as quick as I could. But seriously, I could and would go two years without buying something from them.
And that was the reason I got the form letter about 10 years ago informing me that my card had been canceled. By that time it certainly wasn’t my bad credit, which I’d improved greatly. It had to do with another company — MBNA, I believe — taking over Brooks’ credit card accounts, and I guess my sporadic buying patterns deemed me deadweight.
I thought it unfair that they didn’t at least send me a “we’re about to cancel your account” warning and giving me the option of keeping the card or not — and I told them that in a call. But all I got was some low-level rep who couldn’t give a shit. So I wrote a letter to the CEO of Brooks Brothers explaining how as a 13-year customer I cherished his company for being the only one to stick by me during a difficult financial period when I couldn’t even use the card — only now to ironically cancel my card because I didn’t use it enough.
The reply I got did little more than suggest I apply for a new line of credit, and my response to such a sorry demonstration of how not to treat a loyal customer was to respectfully decline the CEO’s offer and replace my vow of lifelong support with a lifelong boycott.
Certainly the couple hundred bucks a year I haven’t spent there over these last 10 years isn’t what brought that location down, but such a clueless and insipid customer call didn’t help.