Sunday, September 10, 2006

Give the Lady What She Wants...And It's NOT Macy's

"Give the lady what she wants." (Marshall Field, founder Marshall Fields Department Store)

The past week or two television has been bombarded with ads for Macy's. I simply took for granted that Macy's was opening a bunch of new stores. Unfortunately, it appears that I was wrong. Instead, Federated Department Stores, Inc. (who own Macy's and many of the other old department store chains) is renaming every single department store they own "Macy's" effective today. Among the stores affected are the legendary Marshall Fields in Chicago and Famous Barr in St. Louis, Independence, and Columbia, Missouri. I must say that, like many, I am not at all happy about this.

Now don't get me wrong. I am very fond of Macy's. I have never set foot in a Macy's store, but like most Americans I have grown up with Macy's nonetheless. As a child I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. Every Yuletide I watched Miracle on 34th Street. Macy's is very much a part of the American landscape, and very nearly a mythical place for most Americans. To us it is that gigantic department store in New York City that holds the best parade around every year and where Santa Claus is real.

As fond as I am of Macy's, however, I do not appreciate the "Macy's" name being slapped on both Famous Barr and Marshall Fields. To me it is doing a disservice to both of these old, well established department stores. Let's face it, both Famous Barr and Marshall Fields have been around for quite some time. The beginnings of the Famous Barr department store chain can be traced to May Department Stores in Leadville, Colorado in 1877. In 1911 the company moved its headquarters to St. Louis. It can also be traced to the 1911 merger of the Famous Clothing Stone (once owned by May) and the William Barr Dry Goods Company. The legendary Famous Barr Store was opened in St. Louis in 1924, where it still stands. With a long history in St. Louis, Famous Barr is identified with the city in a way only May Department Stores once were. To many Missourians it is our department store.

As to Marshall Fields, it is even older than Macy's. Its roots are in P. Palmer and Co., a dry goods store founded in Chicago in 1852. By 1865 the founder of P. Palmer and Company, Potter Palmer, was in ailing health. It was then that Marshal Field and Levi Leiter bought into the firm. It was renamed Field, Palmer, Leiter & Co. By 1881 Palmer had retired and that year Field would buy Leiter out. The company then became known as Marshall Field & Co.. The famous store at State and Washington Streets, still in operation, was built in 1902. Marshall Fields then has a long history in Chicago. In fact, it is as identified with the city as much as the Cubs or the Wrigley Building. To Chicagoans and most Mid-Westerners, Marshall Fields is Chicago's department store. It seems to me, then, that in giving these stores the "Macy's" name, Federated is in effect denying the long and glorious histories of these department stores, not to mention important parts of the histories of St. Louis and Chicago.

Indeed, I will go a step further and say that it is a disservice to Macy's itself. While I am well aware that Macy's once had stores across the United States (they had stores in Atlanta, Kansas City, and Newark, among other places), like many Americans I tend to identify Macy's with New York City. When I think of Macy's, I think of the famous location at 34th and Broadway in New York City and nowhere else. To apply the name "Macy's" to stores in St. Louis and Chicago that have nothing to do with R. H. Macy (the chain's original founder) or Isidor Strauss (who made Macy's what it is today) is then a disservice to the history of Macy's and its place in the history of New York City. Quite frankly, with the exceptions of stores long owned by Macy's or brand new stores opened under that name, no department store should be named Macy's.

At any rate, it seems to me that I am not the only one who is unhappy that many department stores are now being renamed "Macy's." I know there are people in St. Louis and Columbia who are unhappy with Famous Barr being labelled "Macy's." And I understand that the city of Chicago is pretty much incensed. There have been newspaper articles and editorials decrying the decision to apply the "Macy's" name to the Marshall Fields stores. Many signed an online petition to keep the "Marshall Fields" name. Some have even gone so far as to burn their Macy's cards and plan to boycott the store once the name change is in effect. Quite frankly, I don't blame them. I always enjoyed going to Famous Barr in Columbia. I am not so sure that I want to shop at Macy's in Columbia. It's a brand name I know and respect, but it is not Missouri's brand name for our department store. I am rather hoping that others will follow suit in boycotting the renamed stores and that Federated will be forced to give Famous Barr and Marshall Fields their names back.

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