Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Federated Dumps Field's Name

The way Marshall Field's stores have been passed around like a hot potato over the past couple of decades, I suppose this was inevitable. The Chicago legend's latest owner, Federated Department Stores (could that corporate name be any more lifeless?), announced today that they are changing all Field's stores into Macy's stores.

Field's is a Chicago tradition dating back to 1868--three years before the fire. Chicago shoppers have a strong emotional attachment to Field's. The huge store on State Street is lauded as a monument of retailing, and suburbanites visit with the reverence of pilgrims to some holy shrine. My family goes downtown every December for lunch at the Walnut Room beneath the gigantic Christmas tree. And even though sometimes they don't find much to buy that day, they return year after year. Field's patrons are so steeped in tradition that there was a tremendous uproar years ago when the store did something as seemingly trivial as changing the color of its shopping bags.

Chicago has a rich retailing and mail-order heritage, but it has faded in recent decades. Sears moved to the suburbs. Carson's and Field's were swallowed by larger corporations. Montgomery Ward's went bankrupt and closed its retail stores. The legacy of the golden years of Chicago merchandising is found on Chicago's lakefront. Marshall Field himself donated a large sum to start the Field Museum of Natural History. John G. Shedd, the second president of Marshall Field's, gave money to build the Shedd Aquarium. Julius Rosenwald of Sears funded the Museum of Science and Industry (he gave money to build YMCAs and thousands of schools throughout the country, too). Max Adler, who also made his fortune at Sears, bankrolled the Adler Planetarium. And A. Montomery Ward fought a twenty-year legal battle against lakefront privatization and development.

Replacing the venerable Marshall Field's name with Macy's especially hurts. Macy's is so "New York." I cannot imagine Chicago shoppers will ever feel the same about Macy's as they do about Field's. Mayor Daley, however, doesn't quite get it:

"Things change in life," he said. "If you are not willing to accept change, you stay in the past." The mayor called Federated a "very good corporate citizen." Regarding the State Street store, Federated plans to "reinforce that store," making it even more a "destination" than Field's has been.
Mr. Mayor, people come to Chicago to shop at Marshall Field's, not Macy's. Federated could have enhanced the State Street store without renaming it, and they will fight an uphill battle just to maintain the store's status, much less improve upon it.

1 comment:

Frances said...

I totally agree with it being especially hurtful because Macys is so New York. I feel like Chicago is always fighting to get recognition as being a city just as good as New York mainly because it has its own icons and unique character... and now its iconic department store is going to be turned into another New York clone! I live downstate and I love going to Fields downtown whenever I go to Chicago. A city like Chicago deserves its own department store - Chicago is not a New York clone.