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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Relax, Marshall Field’s Fans: Macy’s Didn’t Ruin Your Favorite Store!

Posted by kinchendavid on December 12, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Chicago, IL  – It’s been a Holiday tradition for many decades, traveling to Chicago’s Loop and viewing the gigantic Christmas tree at Marshall Field’s State Street flagship department store. Most people make a day out of it, shopping at Field’s and other stores on State Street and enjoying a meal at one of the restaurants in the store or nearby.

Given the relatively compact dimensions of the Loop, it’s possible to see a musical, stage play or opera, have lunch or dinner and shop, all in the same day during the holiday season. When I was there in early December, an unseasonable cold wave made that experience something only Mumble the penguin (the star of the hit film “Happy Feet”) would enjoy, but I have that extra native-Midwesterner cold weather gene that permits people like us to venture out when the weather is life-threatening.

Now that Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores has rebranded the Field’s stores as Macy’s, many people familiar with Chicago are wondering what’s in store (couldn’t resist that one!) for a really Big Box institution that occupies an entire city block (Wabash Avenue to the east, State Street to the west, Randolph Street to the north and Washington Street to the south) in the Loop.

Relax, fans of FrangoLand: The store and overall chain, acquired by Federated in 2005, appears to be in good hands after several years of ownership by Minneapolis-based Target. The Marshall Field’s “As Chicago as it gets” slogan has been replaced with Macy’s “Way to Shop” and the famous dark green Marshall Field’s awnings are now Macy’s black. Those Macy’s red stars are also present in abundance. (By the way, Frango was not originally part of Marshall Field’s: It was acquired when the chain purchased the Frederick & Nelson department store chain in Seattle many decades ago).

The tree is a wonder to behold. On my recent visit, I took the elevator to the 8th floor to view the tree and the diners around it in the Walnut Room. Speaking of Frango candies, they have a favored spot in the basement level, where they share space with the Marketplace food court, an excellent dining place that’s much less formal than the Walnut Room.

My sister Natasha Yuhas, who – until her retirement a few years ago — worked in the furniture department at Field’s, concurs in my assessment, saying the store is much cleaner than it was during the heyday of Target, formerly known as Dayton Hudson. Prior to that chain, Field’s was owned by Batus, British American Tobacco; it really hasn’t been owned by the descendants of the original Marshall Field for many years. My sister advises the few people still protesting the name change to get over it – the store is in good hands, she says.

The building is an historic landmark, so the Marshall Field & Co. plaques are still in place around the building’s exterior. The two signature State Street clocks — at Randolph and at Washington — are there and are favored meeting spots for Chicagoans.

State Street is looking better than ever, with many new shops, including one from the very trendy and affordable Swedish H&M chain and the spruced up Sear’s store. A few years ago, the Daniel Burnham designed Reliance Building – one of the best Chicago landmarks that survived the wrecking ball – was renovated into the Hotel Burnham.

The Block 37 development – directly to the west of the Macy’s/Field’s store – is apparently on track. Ground was broken in November 2005 by the Mills Corp. of Arlington, VA for a mixed-used development on the long-vacant site, now called 108 N. State. This past August, the respected Chicago-based developer Golub & Co. bought the residential and office portions of the massive development, expected to be finished in 2008.

One sad note: Carson Pirie Scott & Co., another Chicago landmark, is closing its State Street store in March of 2007. Carson’s, occupying since 1904 one of the most distinguished buildings on the street, the landmark Louis Sullivan-Dankmar Adler designed building, is owned by Bon-Ton Stores. It was formerly owned by Saks Fifth Avenue. The State Street store will house a collection of boutique shops, according to news accounts.

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