Monday, September 04, 2006

Macy's -- the last brand standing

It seemed that Marshall Field's would be there forever, if not here in Madison, certainly in downtown Chicago, where the fabled department store had been since 1852. Actually, Field's hasn't really been the Field's of old for some time, ever since a series of mergers and acquisitions culminating in the Federated Department Store merger in 2005. Federated's best known brand was Macy's, and it was inevitable they would want to rebrand the whole shebang. That's just what they did, and the conversion was completed at 400 different stores belonging to a number of Federated chains, including Field's, over the Labor Day weekend. Here in Madison, they put the final Macy's touch on the back of the store today, on Labor Day. (You can't help but wonder a bit about their business acumen, paying so much in holiday overtime for the name change.)

In Madison, there was an element of irony to the switchover. After all, the anchor department store at the Hilldale shopping center was a Gimbels before it became a Marshall Field's. As Gimbels, it added a touch of big-city sophistication to the Madison shopping experience at a time when big national retailers had not yet taken over all of retail. The blow of Gimbels' demise was softened by Field's move into the neighborhood, which brought with it some of the aura of the downtown Chicago store. Now Marshall Field's has joined Gimbels in the dustbin of retailing history, and Macy's is the last brand standing.

In most parts of the country the public seemed to take the whole thing in stride -- they've seen this sort of constant restructuring all too often. But in Chicago people were understandably upset.
By far the biggest backlash has been in Chicago, where loyalists of the storied Marshall Field's chain have been vocal about their displeasure over losing their city's iconic brand. At, a local blogger describes the conversion to Macy's as the "retail equivalent of renaming Wrigley Field to Yankee Stadium," and promotes a "pride rally and protest" to be held at a Marshall Field's store on the day it officially becomes Macy's.
The death of a brand is certainly a brutal thing to watch.

From one point of view all this rebranding might be viewed positively as part of "the process of creative destruction" that Joseph Schumpeter called "the essential fact about capitalism." For all I know, Federated might have made the right decision from a purely business point of view, though the jury is still out. But "essential fact of capitalism" or not," the whole name change thing seems eerily reminiscent of the old days in the Kremlin when "nonpersons" were simply airbrushed out of the newspapers and history books.

Long live the "nonstores" -- Marshall Field's and Gimbels!


Dr Diablo said...

I was willing to join you in bemoaning the aesthetics of our homely paper money, but I stuffed the hanky back into my breast pocket for this one.

People always wax sentimental about the demise of a longtime brand, even though part of the reason for its disappearance is their failure to support it. That's why Hudson's Bay, founded in the 17th century, can't turn a loonie in Canada. In the Fields case, the neglect reflects consumer wisdom more than disloyalty. Who's going to miss paying prices above suggested retail? Who wants to fork over $40 for a Fields giftbasket containing a teabag, a wedge of shortbread, and a rack of 4 tiny marmalade jars? They were purveyors of overpriced junk.

I can and will live without Marshall Fields. Half the store is cosmetics anyway. I do hope ownership retains some of the cuter clerks, although it was hard to chat them up because they were always talking to each other on their cell phones.

Besides, Macy's is itself an institution. It was featured in "Miracle on 34th Street," which Fields was not. That should be enough to comfort the nostalgic, and to inspire a few tears when Macy's gives way to Target.

john boy said...

The same thing happened on Labor Day here in California. The Robinson-May's signs were changed to Macy's. Now we have two Macy's one block from one another.

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