Mapping the fictional.

Menken’s Department Store

If you’re writing fiction set in New York, you have three choices when it comes to landmarks and neighborhoods. You can take Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums route and distort and obscure the city so that no landmarks are recognizable. You can be entirely realist and have your characters frequent real places and businesses familiar to real New Yorkers, à la Woody Allen. Or you can take a middle road, using the real city as a backdrop and inventing plausible—but bogus—New York institutions. This is a very popular way to handle the trickiness (and city politics) of fictional characters living in a place that is not only real, but also aggressively self-conscious. Gossip Girl’s students attend a school that is almost—but not quite—an actual Manhattan private high school. “Ugly” Betty Suarez works at an ersatz magazine that looks like Vogue if you squint. And Rachel Menken, one of Don Draper’s paramours in the first season of Mad Men, is trying to save her family’s department store, Bergdorf Goodman. Excuse me, I mean Menken’s. 



Rachel: Mr. Draper, our store is sixty years old. We share a wall with Tiffany’s.

(Mad Med, Season 1, Episode 1)

Bergdorf Goodman was founded by an Alsatian immigrant in 1899 as a tailor shop near Union Square; its current location opened 1928 on 5th ave between 57th and 58th. Menken’s was founded by a Russian immigrant in 1900, and “shares a wall with Tiffany’s,” at the corner of 5th and 57th. Bergdorf suffered a period of tough sales in the 1950s and 1960s after the son of one of its original owners inherited the company in 1951. Rachel goes to Sterling Cooper because she, having inherited the company in 1960, is struggling to keep the store afloat. So Menken’s is Bergdorf Goodman— almost.

  • 4 February 2011
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