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The Delightfully Suburban Magic of Kohl’s

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Two words: Kohl’s cash.

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The exterior of a Kohl’s store Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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The Kohl’s my family and I went to in Nebraska was behind our favorite Barnes & Noble and next to the AMC, where I lined up hours early to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was also approximately 500 feet from a mall filled with stores and other options to clothe our family.

But Kohl’s had year-round sales; that’s the primary reason we went there. We wanted and needed to save money, and my sister and I outgrew our clothes every year for about a decade. So over the years, I got well-acquainted with Mudd Jeans, Candie’s, and a number of other brands that cycled in and out of the girls’ and juniors’ departments in the 2000s.

I have probably sniffed every Britney Spears fragrance, which can be found in the truly unbearably fragrant fragrance department. I’ve had every Top 40 song for the past two decades seared into my brain (because, remember — Kohl’s is for everyone, so the music choice has to be popular). I’ve trained myself to remember that the harsh fluorescent lighting isn’t the truth, and that messy sale racks hold the greatest gems, if you’re patient.

See, the beauty of Kohl’s is that the kids could get new clothes, socks, shoes, and underwear, and so could my mom and my dad, and also that kitchen pot that needed to be replaced. All the while your purchases could earn Kohl’s Cash — free money that meant we’d probably be back in two weeks because we had another $30 to spend. Basically, you could buy everything at Kohl’s without really trying, and as a time-saver, I appreciate nothing quite as much.

One section I always browse when shopping is the LC Lauren Conrad collection. It doesn’t get enough credit, and this is a hill I will die on until I go up at least eight tax brackets. The jeans are incredibly flattering and strike a great balance between cotton and spandex. The line is a weird mash-up of boho chic and solid staples like blazers. I also think it’s pretty cool that Conrad expanded into maternity wear and plus sizing.

My love of Kohl’s is a pretty easy way to peg that I grew up in a suburban city — Omaha, to be exact. Intellectually, I know the one-stop-shop feel isn’t for everyone, but how can you not love a store where you can buy kitschy flatware, sneakers, and jeans? Makeup, men’s dress and athletic socks, and a new purse designed by Jennifer Lopez? I blame my mother for encouraging this mindset; she opened a Kohl’s account on April 15th, 1999. I had to have her check that when I started writing this essay because, while I knew we were long-time customers, I didn’t realize our loyalty was old enough to vote.

Now in my mid-20s and living in New York City, I’m still not into big spending on clothing, so inevitably I end up asking to make a stop at Kohl’s to peruse the clearance racks whenever I visit home. A Kohl’s store is not quite as easy to get to from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I say this with complete sincerity: This geographic reality makes me incredibly sad. Because of my low salaries and high cost of living, I’ve never been able to take advantage of the fashionability of living in New York. It just hasn’t been a financial reality.

There was always something more important — Student loan payment! Rent! My last-minute Les Miserables and incredibly not-last-minute Hamilton tickets! As much as I love clothes and style, spending lots of money (particularly when I was making so little) was never a priority. I never quite grew out of clothes that were a few steps above fast fashion and into the the mindset of purchasing fewer things of a higher quality. This isn’t to say I own nothing from that latter bucket, but my closet distinction leans toward the former. Let’s just say my purses are usually more expensive than everything else on my person.

When I was in town (now Dallas) visiting my family in July, we just had to make a Kohl’s stop. It was the perfect combination: My mother had returns and I had a free afternoon. We left the store and walked into a summer storm weighed down by a couple of those opaque gray shopping bags — shirts for her, a pair of tennis shoes and some socks for me.

The demographics of Kohl’s seem to be the same as when I was growing up, the checkout lines always stacked with matriarchs shopping for their families. I like to think these families and I share a similar sentiment. Despite all the good things I have to say about Kohl’s, I do also have a pretty substantial complaint. A plea, if you will, to those in charge. For the love of the goddess of sales: Stop putting expiration dates on Kohl’s Cash.