Best Selling Author Julie Klam on Growing Up in Westchester

Illustration by David Raish

As I sat down to write about my Westchester and share a glimpse of what (and when) my Westchester is, my work slowly devolved from writing to watching several hours of 1970s Barry Manilow videos on YouTube. That’s right. My Westchester was wearing a pink lycra shirt with a giant collar and rhinestones. It was 1975. I had my whole life ahead of me—well, except the first nine years; they were done. So, if you’ll allow me to tell you a bit about my Westchester, I’d appreciate if you’d use the Barry Manilow songbook as a soundtrack. 

I was born in White Plains but moved to Katonah when I was 4 years old so my parents could keep our horses at home. I wasn’t much of an athlete or a scholar or a rider, but I did like to buy things. Shopping was one of my only interests, and one I shared with my mother. The Village of Katonah was all quaint and charming, and offered a general store called Charles Department Store. Ancient wood floors creaked as you walked toward the large glass candy jars filled with penny candy sticks in flavors like banana, blueberry, and sassafras. They sold sneakers, television sets, flashlights, nightgowns. 

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Everyone was nice, everything was cute, but sometimes my mom and I hankered for more sophistication. We’d hop in her yellow Dasher, head down I-684, and sneak off to White Plains—and what we considered real department stores. There was Bloomingdale’s, which I sometimes refer to as my ancestral home; Saks Fifth Avenue; B. Altman; Alexander’s; and Neiman Marcus. I would duck out of school a little early—in time to be in White Plains for a ladies’ lunch. We’d go to either Bloomingdale’s Forty Carrots or B. Altman Charleston Gardens. We’d get the salad bar (a little green bedding, a sliver of carrot, cucumber, a mountain of blue cheese dressing, bacon bits, and croutons) and follow that with quiche Lorraine. 

After that, we’d go from floor to floor—YES (Young East Sider), where my age clothes were, and then Place Elegante, which housed the designer goods my mother favored. Later, we would float down to the first-floor makeup department and spritz Chanel; my mom would buy slick makeup tubes that came with free gifts she’d give to me (often a sample-size, shocking-pink lipstick). We always liked the quick injection of urban chic, and to pretend for a few hours that we had a life that required a Halston jumpsuit instead of mucking boots and overalls. 

I’m not much of a clothing-store shopper anymore. I live in Manhattan now, and I much prefer the glamour of sitting at my computer in my pajamas and clicking on stuff. But recently, my mom and I decided to road trip up to White Plains. We drove by the stores—and they still sparkled—and, as if by magic, we found a radio station playing “Copacabana.” I think you can go home again. 

About: Julie Klam grew up in Bedford. She has written for such publications as O, The Oprah Magazine; Rolling Stone;  Harper’s Bazaar; Allure; Glamour; Family Circle; and Redbook. She is the author of Please Excuse My Daughter; the New York Times bestseller You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught Me The Secrets of Happiness; Love At First Bark: How Saving A Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself; and Friendkeeping: The Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. Along with Ann Leary and Laura Zigman, she is a co-host of the weekly NPR radio show Hash Hags.

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