End of an Era at Chicago's Marshall Field's

ByABC News
September 8, 2006, 5:52 PM

Sept. 8, 2006 — -- Linda Anderson brought her family to State Street in downtown Chicago to see the end of an era. At midnight Friday Marshall Field's, the crown jewel of State Street shopping since 1968, will morph into Macy's.

"People come to Chicago to see Marshall Field's, and now it's not going to be there," she said.

Macy's $17 billion takeover of 11 department store chains is not sitting well with long-time customers, some of whom remember coming to the store as children with their parents. Others note that the distinctive Field's will soon look like just any other department store.

Like Marshall Field's, may of the stores taken over by Macy's were founded more than a century ago and were beloved icons, anchors in cities around the country -- Strawbridge's in Philadelphia, Foley's in Houston, Filene's in Boston.

"Boston residents grew up buying their first communion suits at Filene's, hunting for bargains in the basement. These regional department stores were like the cookies our mothers baked," said retail historian Nancy Koehn.

But nostalgia aside, analysts say this is clearly a survival move. Department stores have been losing ground to discounters and specialty stores for the past 15 years.

"There is a spot for local department stores, but they can't survive on their own. They have to survive as part of a larger entity," said Frank Guzzetta of Macy's.

Macy's is rolling out its new 800-store empire with block parties, bargains and its first national advertising campaign.

"We'll be in cities where we've never been before. It's a very, very big day for our company," said Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren.

While some customers resent the change, analysts argue they stopped shopping at department stores a long time ago.

"Well, if the people of Chicago love Marshall Field's so good, why is it going down the tubes?" said retail analyst Howard Davidowitz. "People talk about how they love the store, but guess what? They shop at Kohls and Target."

Macy's is promising upscale merchandise and better service. The Walnut Room and Chicago's landmark Marshall Field's clock will stay. So will the store's signature Frango mints, made in full view of shoppers.