Monday 5 December 2016

My pilgrimage to Penneys: Why a five hour journey across the US was worth it for this Irish institution

Published 24/05/2016 | 13:20

Freya Drohan outside Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan
Freya Drohan outside Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan
Freya Drohan at Primark (Penneys) in Boston
Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan

As the saying goes - you can take the girl out of Ireland, but you can't take Ireland out of the girl.

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I might live in the fashion capital of New York, but my heart still yearns for Penneys.

Sure the Big Apple has Madison Avenue boutiques and hip East Village thrift stores, but there has been a void in my life (read: wardrobe) recently. Since moving here six months ago, there was only one shop that I missed - our own homegrown institution, Penneys.

Relocating here in November, right in time for a cold and harsh winter, I was limited with only two suitcases, meaning heavy coats and boots took preference. Once the sun reared its head and I realised how expensive it would be to build an entire summer wardrobe from scratch, I lamented how easily accessible it used to be to nip to Penneys and grab the essentials.

Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan
Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan

Most people wonder why there is no New York or Los Angeles store, but once Penneys/Primark set its sights on US expansion, it chose Boston for its premier location to honor the city's large Irish contingent. With the prospect of getting our fix only five hours up the road, myself and my roommate booked a ticket for the 6am BoltBus, eager to stock up.

I'll admit it - I'm a die hard shopaholic and nothing thrills me like some retail therapy. When I lived in Ireland and worked a stone's throw from Penneys flagship location on Mary Street, you couldn't get me out of the place. Weekly trips would set me back €50-€100 so I genuinely feared what the till total would show this time around.

We arrived at the Boston Downtown Crossing store with empty suitcases, keen to get inside and see what we had been missing. As soon as we entered, we didn't say one word to each other before running off in separate directions grabbing things from shelves and rails as if we were in a race.

Over the next three hours we would bump into each other at various parts of the store laughing at the amount of items we had hanging from our arms, the suitcase handles and the two baskets each we had respectively filled.

Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan
Primark (Penneys) in Boston. Picture: Freya Drohan

It will come as no surprise for anyone who has visited New York that it is an expensive city. Like any 20 something year old female, I equate my living costs with how much mundane things like hair bobbins and underwear cost -  and until I make it, I'm not forking out mega bucks for a pair of Victoria's Secrets knickers when I'm used to Penneys' trusty multipacks.

This was another factor for our trip - a $50 return bus ticket for the chance to stock up on inexpensive summer clothes, accessories, gym gear, toiletries and homeware really seemed economical.

The store itself is a marvel; 77,000 square feet of merchandise housed in the former home of Filene's, an iconic Boston department store. There are also ultra modern features, like a large video wall and an artistic mural at the entrance. A friend of mine who lives in the area told me that those not in the know think that 'Primark' is a really chic European brand!

The whole experience turned into a literal game of supermarket sweep. Once I made it to the fourth floor, my arms began to feel like they were dislocated as I lugged bed sheets and multiple pairs of sandals around. Not to mention you could only try on eight garments at a time, meaning several trips to the changing rooms were required.

Freya Drohan at Primark (Penneys) in Boston
Freya Drohan at Primark (Penneys) in Boston

The poor woman working at the checkout had her work cut out for her when she saw me queuing up laden down with items and my suitcase in tow. All in all, for everything from new work uniforms to bath mats and beach bags, the total came to a respectable $530.

Everyone in Ireland has heard the urban myth - that someone's au pair or foreign exchange student thought that "thank you" in Irish was "Penneys!!!" as she heard so many people exclaim it when they were complimented on an item of their clothing.

The only reason I'm glad there is no New York outpost yet is the fact that I'm unlikely to bump into five other girls wearing the same outfit as me this summer. Still, if I do, we will probably give each other a compliment, laugh and utter the old adage...."thanks Hun, Penneys!!!"

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