3.6 min readBy Published On: September 30th, 2017Categories: Features2 Comments on Remembering Filene’s Basement

If you were anything like me, at least once in your childhood you were dragged to Filene’s Basement with your mother.  And not the clean, well lit, and organized basement that you found on Boylston Street or in the malls, I’m talking the original down and dirty Filene’s Basement that resided in – you guessed it – the basement of Filene’s department store at Downtown Crossing.

Several times a month, my brother and I would be forced to go to Filene’s Basement by my mother.  Now looking back on it, she must have been so desperate for a bargain to drag two kids with her that bitched and moaned the entire time while she shopped for sport.  The whole trip to the Basement was more about the hunt for my mother.  It was the unknown that lurked in the racks.  The hidden gem.  The 50% off Valentino hidden among the August Silk blouses.

Most of the time, my brother and I were left unattended to hide in racks of apparel and piles of clothing while my mother shopped.  It was alway incredibly hot in the Basement and I remember collapsing in a heap on the floor and begging to leave to get fresh air into my young lungs.  My mother would tell me to quit being dramatic as she and my Aunt Peggy would flip through racks of clothing searching for something magical – the bargain.  I can remember them scanning the board that had the automatic mark-down dates and then squealing with delight when the black velvet blazer they had in hand was 75% off.  The price made the article of clothing that much more desirable.  And she wore that discount like a badge of honor.  When complimented on the article of clothing, she was quick to respond with, “I got it at the Basement – 75% off.  It cost $12.50.”

My mother’s love of clothing, and in particular clothing at a discount rate, was passed on to me. In my late teens and early 20’s I would take the bus into town to scour the racks of Filene’s Basement.  When the original Basement closed a few years back, I shopped at the  Filene’s Basement on Boylston Street and still managed to find some amazing deals in The Vault section.  But it was all very organized and lacked the thrill of finding a Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress mixed in a pile of no name cotton jersey tops.   I found myself searching in the slightly more chaotic clearance rack for a nugget of gold.  From those searches, I’ve discovered Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, Chloe, DVF, which all now hang in my closet.   And when complimented on my ivory and red Prada skirt, I always say, “I got it at Filene’s Basement.  It was only $99.”

On the flip side:
As a kid, what was worse than the dreaded trip to Filene’s Basement to shop, was the trip to Filene’s Basement to make a return.  My mother normally didn’t take us in with her to do returns, she realized that keeping us occupied in a long line so she could return the items bought on the last shopping excursion would be sheer torture.  She convinced herself making a return would be quick so she would in fact have us sit in the car to “live park”.  “Live parking” is the cousin to double parking except it requires someone to sit in the car in case you have to move it – someone normally being someone who had their license and could drive not someone as in me, age 10 and my brother age 8.

Apparently in the 1970’s, it was perfectly acceptable to leave to children in the car to live park as long as the errand being run was a “quick” one.  Still to this day, I have instant anxiety if I am asked to live park for anyone.   Never once were we asked to move my mother’s illegally parked car and looking back on it, the return was most likely quick – less than ten minutes.  But back then ten minutes seemed liked two hours.  But in the end, my mother was happy she made her return without cranky kids and we ultimately were happy because she would reward us for our help with a quick trip to Slocum’s Toyland.


  1. Valerie Martin January 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I didn't write Maureen Dahill's story about going to the basement with my mother, but it sounds as if I did.  In fact it's feel ripped from the pages of my life experience.  I remember taking the train, the giant rock in the "rock bottom basement" the heat and misery as a kid.  I also remember pitching a fit as a small child and going limp on the staircase only to be yanked up by my arm and spanked right there.  Shopping the basement was serious buisiness.  

    As a woman in my 20's I worked in the Boston Five building and frequented Chez Basement on a daily basis on my lunch hour.  I still own a few striking one of a kind articles that draw complements every time I wear them…and wrought iron and rattan amoir from Italy that I retrieved in my VW Jetta and drove all the way to Hyde Park tied into the trunk with the flashers on.  

    We miss you Filene's Basement.  You we're a one of a kind destination.  

  2. Susan Gailunas January 3, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I, too, was dragged to Filenes Basement by my mother.  I swear she left no stone unturned.  It seemed like she looked at every single item in the store at least twice..Well, that's how it felt to me anyway.  But my best memory of  Filene's Basement is when my kids were little and I went looking for snowsuits for them.  I ran into a woman who pointed me to a table of snowsuits that were just put out on the floor with the wrong date stamped on them.  She said, "You'd better hurry up before they discover their mistake."   I got the 75% markdown and ended up paying about $5 per snowsuit!  Talk about a steal!

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