Jim McKay says he tried posting here but had problems…hope he doesn’t mind me posting what he had to say:
Date: Saturday, January 9, 2010 8:21 pm CT
Posted by: Jim McKay
Thanks to the mysterious Mr. Adams for the lengthy interview last week. Consistent with his reputation for exhaustive questioning, by the end of the phone call, my hand and arm were tingly with numbness from holding the receiver.
Regarding this week's Straight Dope: Chicago--"Why are people still so upset about Marshall Field's?", I believe some further clarifications are in order.
Sure, in Atlanta they are mostly over Rich's becoming Macy's; downstate and in St. Louis they are pretty much over Famous-Barr becoming Macy's and so on. But what is curious is that these same out-of-towners are also among a significant portion of those not over the loss of Marshall Field's. At least half, if not more, of our blog writings, donations of buttons and leaflets, etc. come from those outside of Chicago, many of whom have never been Chicagoans and have only visited our city. According to Marshall Field's literature from 2005, the State Street store was Chicago's "number three destination." Clearly, it is not that any more. If Macy's had purchased and converted Carson Pirie Scott instead of Field's, I suspect the reaction would have, as Adams put it, "eventually rolled over," as was the case with patrons of the likes of Rich's, Famous-Barr, etc. During our leaflet and button distributions on State Street, we regularly encounter non-Chicago natives from around the country, as well as more than a few international visitors from the likes of London, Paris, Tokyo--and even the occasional traveler from the likes of Moscow and Sao Paulo--who are very disappointed to find Macy's in place of Marshall Field's. I don't think former Rich's and Famous locations experience that. Contrary to your column, this is more than the locals Chicagoans being dismayed at having their store converted to New York's brand. Said one St. Louis native to me, "Well, Famous-Barr is just Famous-Barr...but how can they get rid of Marshall Field's for crying out loud? It's why I go to Chicago!" Our survey of Chicago shoppers (not Chicagoans) on State Street and Michigan Avenue showed that 78% preferred Field's and wanted its return, many saying they missed the merchandise and non-pushy service.
Marshall Field's was indeed both an emporium as well as a cultural institution. For example, we hear a lot of fuss about Chicago trying to build its fashion image and also its rep for fine dining. Chicago's best-known fashion and culinary brand was Marshall Field's. If we now build these reps on Macy's, the successes will be credited to a brand synonymous with New York and the failures will be dismissed as simply being typical of the Midwest. In the past year, if one looks closer at the State Street store, one would notice the likes of floor tiles repaired with heavy-duty tape or broken elevators that stay that way for long stretches of time or full store windows dedicated to Clorox sanitary wipes. It is indicative of a slow slide of Chicago's architectural gem into the same mediocrity that plagues Macy's Manhattan flagship.
I'm not a shopping guru, but the new house brands don't match the quality and detail of Field Gear I used to purchase. Another example personal to my experience is the loss of the classy Field's stationery department where one could purchase unusual greeting cards or even have business cards and stationery ordered. That has been replaced with some greeting cards that a Macy's clerk recently described to me as being "not really a stationery department anymore...it's just a rack of cards by the luggage." Sorry, I can't personally comment on ladies' apparel, but a couple of years ago, members of FieldsFansChicago.org compiled a list of over fifty major changes in merchandise since Macy's took over.
To clarify, most of us at FieldsFansChicago.org want a lot of things but it's not that we don't think they will happen--it's that we don't think they will happen under the person Roger Ebert calls "the three-headed one," Macy's CEO, President and Chairman, Terry Lundgren. But we DO think they will happen when in the ever-shifting retail landscape. The question is how long will Macy's continue to exist as it currently does? The fact is that the Marshall Field's stores have had three different owners in the past six years. The fact is that Macy's is highly leveraged with billions of dollars of debt. Their current market capitalization is over $7 billion with heavy debt service. The Marshall Field's brands were last appraised in 2004 at over $420 million in May Department Stores' annual report. That value is maximized when the brands are used with the State Street store. How can Macy's survive without capitalizing on their underutilized asset, Marshall Field's? Brands from Bigsby and Kruthers to AT&T Wireless to California's Lucky grocery stores to the Ford Taurus all came back. So can Marshall Field's. Does it really make sense to take such a unique store and make it one of 800 other Macy's? We don't think so.