Why are people still so upset about Marshall Fields?

In the Cool stuff that’s gone thread (which I didn’t want to hijack), more than one poster mentioned Marshall Field’s.

It’s been four years, and people are still writing letters to the Tribune to wish the Macy’s corporation a slow and painful death. Occasionally, people even picket the State Street Macy’s, apparently trying to get them to change the name back to Field’s.

There’s a Macy’s that used to be a Field’s at the mall near where I live, and I’ll be damned if I can tell any difference other than the name over the door. IMO, the State Street flagship had been getting kind of dumpy in later years; Macy’s seems to have spruced the joint up quite a bit.

The Walnut Room is still there, Frango Mints are still there. Both chains have a reputation as a good, higher-end store, but beyond that - a department store is a department store is a department store, right? In fact, if my research is correct, the Field family hadn’t owned the store since 1982, and it had changed hands a couple more times before Macy’s bought it.

So, as far as I can tell, Macy’s great crime wasn’t buying Marshall Field’s, it was putting their own name on what are now their own stores. I can’t think of a single way anything else would be appreciably different if the new owners had left the old name.

So why is this such a hot-button issue for so many people?

I completely agree with you. If the Field family didn’t care enough to hang onto the property, why should the rest of us care what it is called? The current owners are well within their rights to call it whatever the hell they want.

If I owned a store, I sure wouldn’t want people telling me what I could and couldn’t call it. We still have property rights in this country, after all (at least, some of them haven’t been taken away yet)…TRM (who is bracing for a name change at the fine building on Clark and Addison sometime soon)

'Cause Fields was Chicago-esque and Macy’s is New York and folks who felt strongly about such traditional things felt slighted. As if Macy’s said “Screw you folks and your traditions, it’s more important that we can buy Macy’s bags in bulk” (economies of scale being the prime reason I saw Macy’s cite for not keeping the Field’s name).

It’s an emotional response and not really a rational one. But then, as someone who hasn’t shopped at Macy’s since the switch, I’m not really worried about being rational. There’s plenty of other stores for me to shop at and, as a consumer, I can be as fickle and capricious as I like :slight_smile:

For the record, I don’t send angry letters to the Tribune or picket. I just refuse to shop at Macy’s.

Agreed, although the consumers are within their rights to bitch about it or refuse to shop there or otherwise use consumer pressure to try to make a business change its mind. For whatever reasons they wish, really. Until someone’s throwing cinder blocks or Molotov cocktails, I don’t see the problem.

Perhaps it can be summed up in one word: Tradition


I disagree. Tradition is something you do yourself. Not something you try to coerce other people to do with their own lawfully acquired property for your benefit.

I disagree with your description of it and I assume most people would cite “tradition” as their reason as well. You’re welcome to say they’re all wrong but that and $26 will get you a box of Frango mints.

If it has to be explained, you won’t understand. Macy’s is not Field’s, nor can it ever be Field’s. And just so you know: they originally did not want to keep Frango.

I shopped at Field’s my whole life. Going to Field’s to see the windows at Christmas was a wonderful tradition. I worked at the State St store when I was in college; my sisters worked at either State or Watertower. We registered for gifts there and I ordered the wedding invitations from there. My wedding china/crystal and sterling were displayed (with my name etc) at the Park Forest store back in 1987. Field’s was THE store for my family and friends. Macy’s doesn’t even come close. I now do my “good” shopping at Carson’s. I find it highly satisfactory that Macy’s wasn’t allowed to remove the nameplates from the corners of the State St store, seeing as how their considered National Landmarks.
I have no such feeling or loyalty toward Macy’s. I have no desire to shop there at all. I don’t go there. I won’t go there. YMMV.

Also, for me, Macy’s is a symbol of New York. Marshal Fields was a symbol of Chicago. Macy’s essentially told Chicago that its symbols aren’t important. I don’t live in the Chicago area anymore, but I sure as hell will never shop at Macy’s. There are plenty of options for me to shop from, I can be as fickle as I like. I will teach my children the same.

Macy’s made a business decision when they chose to change the name. I have a right to respond to that decision by not shopping at their stores. There is nothing coercive about it, because I know they will never change the name back.

It wasn’t just the name that changed – it was also the merchandise and the staff and the attitudes.

I lived in New Jersey from 1998 to 2006. Moved there from Joliet. And believe me, in those eight years, I had my share of Macy’s – including the flagship store in Manhattan. I always thought it was a shitty store, and the store on 34th Street is an incredible dump. I heard some time in 2005 or 2006 that MF was going to become a Macy’s and I was horrified BECAUSE I knew that Macy’s is a shitty store. From personal experience. I didn’t want that to happen to a store that people travel to Chicago to visit.

Most of the higher-end merchandise was shipped out and replaced by crap. My wife and I had the misfortune of going there after Christmas last year because her aunt in Massachusetts gave her a Christmas present – from Macy’s – that she had to return, and the staff was near impossible to find and seemingly unwilling to help.

Even the “true” Macy’s stores – that is, the ones that were always Macy’s and not another re-branded store, like former Bamberger’s etc., aren’t truly Macy’s – they’re Macy’s in name only. What once was a great and highly reputable chain of department stores turned into lackluster fragments of what they used to be at best, glorified K marts at worst.

Tim – why should we care what the name (and content) is?


  1. Macy’s midwest division has been doing poorly ever since September 2006 – gee, that’s when the switchover of name and merchandise happened. September 9, 2006, to be exact.

  2. They have stockholders to report to – some of whom are demanding that the Marshall Field’s brand be restored.

  3. Let’s say I’m visiting from New York. Why would I want to visit Macy’s when I have one in New York? I’ll just stick with Garrett’s. Now let’s say that Marshall Field’s was still Marshall Field’s, and I’m visiting from New York. Oh wow, there’s the famous Marshall Field’s! Let me go check it out! Oooh, nifty! Nice merchandise! Holy crap, they even wrap it up nicely and put it in a fancy box for me – and it’s only costume jewelry!? They care! Sure beats the skinny black-shirted smoking teenagers at Macy’s whose job descriptions obviously involve counting the seconds to their smoke breaks.

BTW – my mother, a native Chicagoan, asked me what the big deal is, a store is a store, just don’t shop there if you don’t like it, etc. Well, recently when she was downtown, she told me she checked out Macy’s. She said, “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from now.” She was disgusted.

The information that follows is paraphrased from Axel Madsen’s book “The Marshall Fields” published in 2002.

When Marshall Field II died under mysterious circumstances, his father created a will that established a trusteeship for bulk of his fortune (about $2.5 billion in today’s dollars) naming his two young grandsons, Marshall III and Henry as beneficiaries of the trust. One of the unusual conditions of the will/trust document was that that the trust would be terminated when each reached the age of 50. A few years after his grandfather’s death, Henry too died and after a brief but intense legal battle, Marshall Field III was named sole beneficiary of his grandfather’s trust.

Here’s where it becomes relevant to this discussion. Trustees are charged with fiduciary responsibility and by 1917 90% of the company stock had been sold to partners and managers of the wholesale and retail businesses. For most of his life Marshall Field III owned only a minor share of the businesses that bore his name. Instead he followed his own instinct and made money first as a financier and later as a newspaper publisher. The Sun-Times and the Daily News were part of his financial empire as were other odds and ends including the Sunday magazine supplement, Parade, and World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias. The Field trust also financed the building of the Field Building on LaSalle Street and the Merchandise Mart.

Marshall Field III finally came into his grandfather’s money when he turned 50 in 1943. At the time, his fortune was worth more than what he inherited and only a small percentage was in Marshall Field stock. This he disposed of in 1965.

What this boils down to, and the reason for this post, is that no Field family member has had anything to do with the store on State Street since the death of its founder in the early 1900s.

Irrelevant but interesting factoid number one: Marshall Field, the founder, died from pneumonia which developed from a cold he caught after he played a round of golf (as was his wont) in suburban Wheaton on New Year’s day! They used red balls to find them in the snow – just so you know.

Irrelevant but interesting factoid number two: Marshall Field’s will was contested nine times in court and one of the results was that both state and federal inheritance laws were changed.

As an old timer, I would like to add what made MF&Co so unique (circa 1970) but will save that for a later post.

PS: The Marshall Field Trust also built the Pittsfield Building (named after the founder’s birthplace in Massachusetts) and the building on the southwest corner of Wabash and Washington which was known as the Marshall Field Annex. The first four (?) floors were the Men’s Store, the upper floors, medical offices. These two buildings, with the addition of the Garland Building, are now the center of many medical and dental offices. If you live in the city, I’m sure you have been in one of them for medical or dental care. Lord knows, I have.

Irrellevent but interesting factoid number three: John D. Rockefeller may have donated money for the original UofC buildings but Marshall Field donated the land he owned in Hyde Park to put build them on.

Macy’s is not nor ever has been a high end store. To put it in the local parlance Macy’s = Goldblatt’s.

I’ve been to the Macy’s on 34th Street in NYC, and you are correct. It has a stale, dingy feel to it, like an eight-story Woolworth’s.

But the one that used to be Field’s on State Street seems to have maintained the level of class and cache it had when it was Field’s, local prejudices notwithstanding.

Cecil has now addressed this as well, in his Straight Dope Chicago column: http://chicago.straightdope.com/sdc20100107.php

Hey, cool!

Nice column, Cece.

People are just stupid. I remember right before they changed names there were crowds going to the Walnut room. One network quoted a diner saying he would never go there when it became Macy’s. Hello? It had been bought by Macy’s over a year earlier, they were just getting around to changing the name. Your money that day went to Macy’s. I only miss the wry humor of the old “Field Days” sales.
Of course, just wait until the name-change mania/phobia comes to Wrigley Field.

It was NOT JUST THE NAME THAT CHANGED. The merchandise changed. The customer service left.

Sears Tower – name changed, new owners.

Wrigley Field – while I can’t believe that a Cubs fan would allow that to happen, if it happens, it’s a name change. Nothing else other than sponsorship and corporate feces. (The field’s named after WJ Wrigley, not his company.)

US Cellular Field – name changed. Plus, it’s not really Comiskey anyway, so who the hell cares? (then again, it’s the Sox, so who the hell cares?)

La Salle Bank --> Bank Of America = new bank in addition to new name.

Marshall Fields --> Macy’s = new store, new merchandise, new name.

I don’t care that Macy’s owns the place. I care that they removed a symbol of Chicago and replaced it with a symbol of New York. It doesn’t matter how illogical it is. There is absolutely nothing that Macy’s has that I can’t just as easily get at another store at the same mall. It’s like choosing between Chili’s and Applebee’s. I can choose not to go to Macy’s for any reason I want, because I won’t lose anything by going someplace else.

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.

This, and I get tired of hearing ‘the greatest city in the world’ tripe from the NYC crowd. Yep, it’s a neat city alright and for sure a financial and cultural capital, but all predjudices aside, NYC isn’t even the greatest city in America, I’m not even sure it’s the greatest city on the east coast.

Oh, and another reason? The merch sucks. I threw out luggage that my parents got @ Fields many, MANY years ago just because it was avocado green and I couldn’t bear to keep it in storage anymore. The year before? I threw out luggage I bought on my one and only trek into Macy’s. One trip is all I got out of it. Nope, never again Macy’s. Never again.