B. Altman Stores Offering Clearance Discounts : New York: After 124 years in business, the grand dame of Fifth Avenue, B. Altman & Co., is closing its doors, but only after a huge liquidation sale.

Department stores that gear up with fine goods and special decorations for the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons usually wait until after these holidays to offer their customers price reductions on what's left.

This year, an exception is B. Altman & Co. in New York City.

This grand dame of the Fifth Avenue department stores and five of its six branches are putting on a preseason clearance sale that began the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest and most crucial selling day of any retailer's calendar year. Store-wide reductions on merchandise are 20% to 40%.

That's the good news. The bad news is that B. Altman's is going out of business.

The sale extends through the flagship store, on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, as well as through branch stores in Philadelphia; Short Hills and Peramus, N.J.; White Plains, N.Y., and Manhasset, Long Island. The Fifth Avenue store is four times larger than any of the branch outlets, and is stocked with the widest range of merchandise.

The B. Altman branch store in Cincinnati will remain open, but is not participating in the company's liquidation sale.

For 124 years, B. Altman & Co. has been a preferred department store for successive generations of New York City's "carriage trade." The store has been known for a fine, conservative selection of top-quality and top-label merchandise, for its pleasant ambience and for exceptional customer service.

This liquidation sale comes as a result of bankruptcy proceedings. After B. Altman disposes of all its stock and fixtures, the store's doors will be closed. The official closing date has been set for Jan. 29, 1990, but the doors may be shut before that, if merchandise and fixtures are sold off earlier.

L. J. Hooker Corp., B. Altman's parent company, has had increasing financial troubles this year and filed for bankruptcy protection in August. Since then it had been trying to find buyers for the B. Altman stores, but there were no satisfactory bids.

Some retail analysts believe B. Altman's lost its share of the market because it was slow to adapt to new fashion and marketing trends. But that is precisely what B. Altman's loyal following has loved about the place.

Stock will gradually be moved out of the elegant and spacious departments where it has always been displayed with great style and good taste, and placed on open tables, shelves and racks and in bins.

The liquidation strategy is to start the sale storewide, with all departments still fully functional, but as stock is sold off, various departments and even entire floors will be closed to condense selling space.

But those who shop early in the sale will still be able to wander through the entire eight floors of selling space, appointed with polished wooden panels, gleaming glass cases, ornate moldings, beautiful crystal chandeliers and other elegant fixtures.

This is the last opportunity to enjoy the old B. Altman environment, and the last time to delight in the store's highly acclaimed Christmas decorations and window displays.

The liquidation sale began with typical discounts of 20% to 40%. As the sale progresses, reductions will be increased to up to 60%, to sell off merchandise that has been moving slower.

The sale represents an extraordinary opportunity for bargain hunters. B. Altman has traditionally carried the nation's largest and most complete selection of Waterford crystal. The store is also known for its exceptional furniture galleries and fine supply of Oriental rugs. Sale prices on Waterford and other rarely discounted items are exceptional.

The magnificent B. Altman chandeliers are Waterford crystal, but they are leased and will not be among the fixtures offered for sale.

Altman's also stocks top designer label men's and women's fashions, footwear and accessories, lingerie and intimate apparel, stationery supplies, gift items, jewelry and silverware, china, small appliances and home decorating accessories, but does not carry large appliances or electronics.

The store is not advertising its specific labels, but all top-quality standards (Ralph Lauren, Bally and Lennox, for example) are being sold, along with some B. Altman's exclusives.

Although the store is selling some remaindered stock from last season that already was marked down, most sale stock is current. There is a large selection of cruise wear, for example, as well as an extraordinarily large and well-stocked Christmas shop with a wide range of tree decorations, creches and other seasonal adornments.

B. Altman's is accepting personal checks (with two acceptable forms of identification required) and all major credit cards, as well as cash. B. Altman's own credit card is not, however, being honored. All sales are final, so check the merchandise carefully before buying it. The store opens daily at 10 a.m.

The B. Altman pre-holiday season liquidation sale is expected to affect prices city-wide in New York during this heavy shopping season. The B. Altman reductions on current top-quality merchandise will probably force other retailers to adjust their prices to remain competitive during their most crucial sales period.

Post-holiday sales will probably be phenomenal. This is definitely the right time for a New York shopping spree.

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