Sunday, September 10, 2006

Traditionalists mourn demise of Marshall Field's

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Protesters marched, carried signs and called for a boycott Saturday because their beloved Marshall Field's, a shoppers' magnet on State Street for more than 100 years, had been replaced by a New York icon: Macy's.

Signs with phrases like "Hell No. Not My Dough" and "Macy's Is Just Wal-Mart with Pretension" were carried by demonstrators, who also toted signature green Field's shopping bags.

The store is one of about 400 properties nationwide being converted to the Macy's nameplate by Federated Department Stores, which acquired the properties when it bought May Department Stores last year.

But unlike most of them, the big Marshall Field's store had amassed generations worth of loyalty.

Amelia James said she treasures childhood memories of dressing up in white gloves to have lunch in the store's Walnut Room with her grandmother Grace Denny Elder. She said she was going to cut up her Field's credit card and boycott Macy's.

"My grandmother was born in 1898. She shopped here her whole life," said James, 48, of Chicago. "There were six kids in our family. We didn't have a lot of money, but when she brought us here to Marshall Field's, it was one of the most special things."

The store was built in stages from 1892 to 1914. Its name came from retailer Marshall Field, who got his start as a salesman in a Chicago dry-goods store in 1852.

James was one of roughly 100 demonstrators who objected to the name change Saturday.

At the same time, hundreds of shoppers started lining up two hours before the doors opened. Once inside, they listened to a jazz quintet as they used $10 Macy's gift cards handed out to the first arrivals. Workers in Macy's T-shirts offered silver trays of doughnut holes and coffee in glass cups.

"Things change," said Chicagoan Mary Peterson, 64, the first person in line before the store opened. Peterson worked for 18 years at Field's, packing the store's popular Frango mints into boxes as they came off the conveyor belt in the candy kitchen. She said she welcomes Macy's.

Macy's officials, who said they have no plans to reverse their decision, hope to lure back any unhappy shoppers.

"We understand this is an emotional time and people are passionate about the name," Macy's spokeswoman Jennifer McNamara said. "We hope they'll give us a chance to demonstrate that the essence of what our customers love about Marshall Field's will continue at Macy's."

Macy's will retain such traditions as the Walnut Room restaurant and the green clocks at the building's corners.

Federated, based in Cincinnati, became the nation's largest department-store retailer when it bought May. The switch to the Macy's nameplate will give Federated a total of more than 800 Macy's stores in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.


  1. While I too am saddened by the demise of Marshall Field as a retail nameplate, in the long run it will probably not be as bad as it seems now. As a Philadelphian who witnessed the demise of both Wanamaker's and Strawbridge & Clothier under the May Company, I, in hindsight, wish Federated had won the bankruptcy auction for the flagship Wanamaker store in 1995 as it would have been a far better store today than what has been recently created by Federated in the Wanamaker flagship after Lord & Taylor was kicked out (by Federated who always wanted that location). Only time will tell how all this change shakes out, and I will be closely following the monthly and quarterly sales of Federated to see if they are successful... From this point forward they will be hard pressed to report any disappointing sales in former "May Company" stores as now it is their merchandise and they will need to make it work.

    If my experience at the new Macy's (aka Filene's) in VT on Saturday is any indication for success, then Federated has a long way to go! Yes, the aisles were cleared and there was new merchandise, but other than the jumping "people" Macy's stars, there was no excitement in the store and nothing getting me to shop...Macy's "way to shop." Really interesting merchandise will get me to shop...but I have not seem much of that since the demise of John Wanamaker in 1995 and then Strawbridge & Clothier in 1996. When that type of excitement returns to the department store realm, then maybe they will be worth shopping again. (In fairness, Marshall Field's still had this up until recently, but only time will tell if Macy's dilutes and destroys the "fun" of shopping in department stores. If they can imbue that "fun" in all their stores, then there might be a chance they can turn things around.)

  2. Thanks for the comments, Craig. I’ve been trying to put together an analysis of what this “new” Macy’s means and your thoughts are pretty consistent with my own.

    I personally don’t think Macy’s will recover in Chicago. A lot of people’s excitement about this new nameplate is tied to it being new to the market and the massive amount of promotion Federated has done to market the brand. After the hoopla subsides, it’ll be just another store, and on top of this, a store that has no local connection and a fair number of detractors. There could be trouble, since Marshall Field’s share of the local retail market had already been decreasing.

    I walked through a number of former May Company stores over the past few months watching the conversion. It’s like you said: it’s cleaner and some stuff is nicer, but there’s not enough difference between what was and what is to have justified a merger of this magnitude.

    The Lynchburg, Virginia store was particularly disappointing. The store was already a bit rundown from passing through a succession of owners and nameplates without a significant capital investment but I thought that surely the merchandising would improve with Federated. This was not the case. All they did was replaces the May private labels with Federated ones and put up new signs. This is not a “reinvention of the department store.” This is business as usual.

    May did a crappy job with the Wannamaker’s conversion, to be sure, but Federated, with its lack of interest in big downtown stores, would likely have closed that store a couple of years later instead of keeping it as Macy’s. I don’t know that for sure, but with their track record of store closings, it’s a safe bet. I worry about the former Kaufmann’s in Pittsburgh and former Famous-Barr in St. Louis for the same reason.

  3. Analysis? You mean breaking copyright laws by cutting and pasting stories.

  4. Normally I'd just delete your comment, but since you don't have balls enough to even leave your name, I'm going to reiterate my disclaimer from farther down on the page.

    There are a lot of things here that I did not personally write or create. These items are provided as a service to my readers and are not intended to violate any copyright laws. If you are the author or creator of work featured on this weblog and feel your work is being misrepresented, please feel free to contact me so that agreeable terms for presentation can be reached.

    Furthermore, if you don't like my blog, don't visit.

  5. That anonymous guy is a damn loser. He posts at this other blog, too. Always writing dumb stuff.

    I didn't even know Marshall Fields was still the name of a store. If so, it is sad the store will be no more, I guess.

  6. Yep, Marshall Field's was still around until Saturday. I went there in 1996 and it was one of the best retail experiences I ever had.

    Thanks for posting, Jeff :-)

  7. hey anonymous,

    Why CAN'T people cut and paste articles? Swain isn't pretending he wrote the articles. He cuts and pastes the bylines, you dolt.

    I hate cowards like you who have nothing better to do but mess with people and then you don't even have the courage to leave your name.

    Hey Jeff22- It's probably not the same person. "Anonymous" is not a name. It is a word used by people who wish to withhold their names.

  8. Thanks for coming to my defense, Bill.

    I always tell where I get articles if at all possible, and I used to post links back to the source articles before the big redesign a few weeks ago (I'm nt great at HTML, so I'm still trying to get the bugs out of that.)