My Photo
Location: Manchester, New Hampshire, United States

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

(Chicago, January 17, 2007) Regime remnants battling in the streets? "Deadenders" who refuse to surrender? Field generals replaced? Commanders under the gun?



Chicago. The battle for Marshall Field & Co. is being waged on State Street.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown once wrote that Marshall Field's "anchored State Street." Actually, the store anchored the entire Midwest. The "day of the department store" may have passed, but not in Chicago. We still love our Marshall Field's.

The State Street store was a great icon to midwestern enterprise and independence. I have been a Field's shopper since the 1960's. My home was furnished there. The store has been updated several times. It was regularly modernized. In the years when Field's management had offices on the 9th floor there was local control and local input. Marshall Field's (the family of Marshall Field has long since ceased to have any interest in the company) helped develop suburban Chicago, and the Magnificent Mile. Water Tower Place was a Field's development.

Field's embodied the best of the department store tradition and State Street was the crown jewel.

Then Macy's bought Field's, claiming department stores were dying, and said it was going to change Field's into a Macy's.

Last Tuesday most of the Chicago Tribune's letters to the editor concerned Macy's changes at Fields. The Sun-Times had similar coverage in its business section. This is four months after the name change!

Managers are being reassigned. Senior management is perplexed. Last year, Macy's changed hundreds of store names from coast-to-coast but nowhere but Chicago did the War of Field's develop.

Chicago has been enduring a relentless loss of status over the past few decades. The venerable First National Bank of Chicago became New York's Chase Manhattan Bank. Continental Illinois Bank failed and became Bank of America. There is even a "New York & Co." store on State Street (but no "Chicago & Co." store on Fifth Avenue). No one likes to think of himself or herself as an appendix; we all know what happens to appendixes. And so the loss of Marshall Field's may have been the last straw for irate Midwesterners.

Macy's quickly promised to continue Field's traditions. Yes, the tree was there last month. The Walnut Room is still open. I don't know if "Frango" mints are again being produced in Chicago. But they better be. Soon. Or else.

Chicago's newspapers have been someone ambivalent about this retail tempest. The Sun-Times, which always received fewer Field's ad dollars despite being a newspaper started by a Marshall Field descendant, has been more composed and willing to let commerce have its way.

The Chicago Tribune, always Field's mainstay medium, has been more sympathetic to the loss and has lavished coverage on the anti-Macy's combatants, at a time when the Tribune's own traditions are eroded and under attack.

Today the New York Times finally noticed ("Loss of Marshall Field's Has Store Loyalists Seeing Red").

State Street had come to Broadway.

When will it end? I don't really know.

I'm a guy who grew up in a town called Middletown, on a street called Main Street. I lived with struggling small merchants, with local stores. I remember when E. J. Korvette came to Hartford, Connecticut. G. Fox & Co. was never the same.

I realize times have changed and tastes have changed. And yet, Field's was Field's and Field's on State Street anchored the main street of the Midwest. Even Macy's has been afraid to remove the "Marshall Field and Company" signs on the State Street store. Yup, the wall signs are still there, a reminder of past glory and present ignominy. Given what has been going on since last year, who wants to be the brave soul to even cast a glace at removing those storied signs?

There is something else about Field's that is special. It represents and virtually catalogues racial progress in Chicago. The time was, few blacks worked in Field's and probably fewer shopped there. But today Field's is color blind (except to green) and minorities are equally and fairly represented. That's why this store represented the soul of the city. It benchmarked racial progress and the racial peace in Chicago that slowly evolved out of the hatred and hostility of the 1960's.

It is clear that Macy's underestimated Chicagoans and underestimated Midwesterners.

Sadly, the local management ultimately sold out some years ago. Dayton Hudson from Minneapolis, another department store chain, took over. But then that company changed its name to Target (Tarzhay?) and dumped its department stores. It was not until Federated Department Stores took over and announced a name change to Macy's that Midwesterners declared war.

I wrote an earlier column before Macy's changed Field's name, decrying the loss of local control and most of all of local merchandize "buyers" who selected products available only at Field's.

Macy's management suggested economies of scale (mass
purchasing power and efficiency) would make for higher profits. But that concept only works if people want to buy your merchandise. I remain to be convinced that the "one store" concept for hundreds of Macy's locations will succeed. Local buyers were what made department stores special, and I don’t see any evidence that mass will ultimately succeed over class.

For now, the war continues. The loyal shoppers who felt abandoned when Field's became Macy's have put a dent in corporate profits. State Street is a battleground. The suits in New York who make decisions don’t know what to do. Come to think about it, Macy's and Field's do have a lot in common with Baghdad and Washington. Distant mangers think they know better than the locals. That war has been going on as long as cities and civilization.

Of course, when I was a kid, at holiday time we would leave Main Street and head for Herald Square. To visit the real and only Macy's. We skipped the pale replica that eventually surfaced in New Haven and finally closed. But then that's another story.--------------------------Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of He is a chronicler of all things Midwestern and the authentic Voice of Middle America. Copyright Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers national and international politics with forty years of personal experience. Columns also posted at Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639


Post a Comment

<< Home