Scraping on State Street: A Year of Macy’s

(Photo: “It’s that ABC news van again…”.)

[Ed. Note: A big shout out to my readers from the estimable Gapers Block today, and thanks for the coverage, JA!]

It’s generally not a good sign when the ABC news van is parked in front of your establishment in the middle of the business day. So it was on Monday, as I walked past the Randolph Street frontage of the financially troubled Macy’s on State Street and came face-to-face with this curiously parked news vehicle.

Numerous news reports over the past two days (see the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, and, yes, ABC7 Chicago) chronicled Macy’s newsworthy faux pas of the day: a Chicago Health Department smackdown of Macy’s popular lower-level food court (in part, for, of all things, a fruit-fly infestation). That the eatery closures occurred in the basement of the erstwhile Marshall Field’s flagship store is a delicious irony for anyone wondering to what further depths Federated-cum-Macy’s Inc.’s management would drag Chitown’s historic shopping mecca.

Not the least of those wondering whither the store’s future: its rank-and-file floor clerks. Some I spoke with on Monday suggested that the health-code violations were merely the tip of the iceberg of the store’s problems. Also among the candid opinions I encountered from store staff: surprise that the 7th Floor eateries weren’t cited; and outright doubt that the store would last out the year under current (mis-)management.

While staff must wonder quietly, though, I don’t. So does anyone else want to know how many months of missteps it will take before Macy’s, Inc. honcho Terry Lundgren finally admits that he made the mistake of his career by attempting to ram the Macy’s nameplate down the throats of 8 million Chicagolanders who, as time has proven, weren’t kidding when they vociferously asserted last year that they had no taste for the new monicker?

Let’s review the silliness of it all:

–Department-store juggernaut Federated (now Macy’s Inc.) in late 2005 announces its intention to wipe the century-old Marshall Field’s nameplate off of State Street and from the midwest in general, triggering loud and emotional protests across Chicagoland (see the 2006 Google News archive).

–Adding insult to injury, a Chicago-native PR specialist is tapped to create the ad campaign announcing Macy’s arrival in the midwest and across the country. Amazingly, it is a wholly generic ad campaign that completely ignores the local angle–potential customers across the county are simply told to be happy that Macy’s is now located wherever people want to travel (hands up how many of you out there have ever, say, booked a trip to Maui because your favorite department store had an outlet there?).

–Equally insulting, Macy’s installs new wayfinding maps throughout the store that actually list the wrong street names for three of the four streets surrounding the store. Regular readers will remember it was Yours Truly who tipped Chicago media on this, earning Chicago Carless the front page of the September 1, 2006 Chicago Tribune business section. (And as if that weren’t enough of a public-relations blunder, in the same week Macy’s threatens to sue a local eatery for selling a sandwich formerly popular at the old Marshall Field’s).

–The nameplate change occurs. The change is met with numerous brand changes, widely considered to be downmarket choices by former Field’s shoppers, the beginning of Macy’s hopelessly messy, Walmart-esque “let’s pile boxes of everything everywhere” stocking strategy, and protests, protests, protests.

—And for the next year, news report after news report (see here for the Google News archives on same for 2006 and 2007), not to mention reports from Macy’s, Inc., themselves, announce the perilous decline of shoppers–and shopping receipts–both at the State Street flagship and in other cities that received similar nameplate changes by Federated in 2006.

Hope seemed to arrive in January 2007, when Lundgren announced upper-level management changes–after one of the State Street store’s worst Christmas seasons ever–aimed at making the store more welcoming to Chicago shoppers. Health-code violations in my formerly favorite food-court are not what I, as a local living three blocks from the store, had in mind, though, Terry.

Neither, I might add, are closures of other local stores (and if Macy’s can’t make money in tony Lake Forest, just where can they turn a buck?), allegedly looking for a buy-out offer, or cutting the compensation and commission rates of hard-working store employees in order to make others pay for what have been from the beginning very personally led corporate blunders.

Instead, how about, for once, finally admitting that Macy’s on State Street is, ahem, on State Street, in Chicago? How about celebrating Chicago, and the long-standing relationship between city and store, in a big, loud, and persistent manner? How about commercials and newspaper ads that say “Chicago’s Macy’s” instead of “Macy’s, you better love us because we’re everywhere so get used to it”?

If Macy’s is (apparently now) so desperate for Chicagoans to love them, my advice is to let Chicagoans feel the love, first. It’s time to show some love towards the locals you want to keep you in business, Terry. A lot more. This is not a difficult concept.

Then again, judging from recent actions, maybe it is. After all, you sponsor a nationally televised Thanksgiving parade in New York, but let Macy’s dump Chicago’s 2006 turkey-day parade into the hands of McDonald’s. McDonald’s, for God’s sake. Hello? Is this thing on? Is anyone actually awake and listening out there in Cincinnati?

A region of eight million shakes its head and continues to wonder.

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