Macy’s State Street Cost Cuts Christmas

(Photo: A slight exaggeration over the cut-rate Christmas on view at Macy’s State Street. Credit: not Mike.)

Update 11/16/10: Thank you to Time Out Chicago for shouting out this post in this month’s TOC look at the better–though tiny and very NYC-centric–2010 Macy’s State Street windows.

I’ll cut to the chase: Macy’s State Street has cost-cut its Chicago Loop holiday windows and Christmas tree so deeply this year, I personally don’t believe it’s worth bothering to make that time-honored family foray downtown to see them.

In January 2008, Macy’s fired longtime window dresser Amy Meadows, the woman responsible for decorating 25 years worth of State Street holiday windows and Walnut Room Great Trees, as part of a particularly brutal wave of cost-cutting layoffs at the retailer’s Chicagoland stores.  When it happened, the Sun-Times quoted a Macy’s spokesperson saying, “We have a talented visual team who will decorate our store windows and continue the time-honored tradition.”

Given the former-Federated’s track record in Chicago, I doubted those words. And if this holiday season’s State Street windows and Great Tree, publicly unveiled on Saturday, November 8th, are any indication, I had good reason for pause.

I’ve said it, I’ve repeated it, and I’ve even ended up on the front page of the Chicago Tribune business section saying it: Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren will go to the grave–and take the former Marshall Fields with him–before he and his team get a clue about how to honor Chicagoans and their local retail traditions.

The first two years of State Street holiday decorations under Macy’s tenure were an uneven affair, but at least there was evidence of an artistic program, not to mention a budget.  The 2006 season gave us Cinderella windows and a Swarovski crystal-festooned tree.  The following season brought a Mary Poppins storyline and a tree decorated by Martha Stewart.

What a difference another 12 months make. The decorations for this year’s windows and tree were “inspired” by celebrity designer Tommy Hilfiger around a clumsy one-word theme of “Believe.” Abject disbelief is closer to the feeling I was left with upon experiencing them, not to mention more than a little suspicion that Hilfiger’s hands went nowhere near a drawing board here.

The first thing I can tell you about the holiday windows is that there are fewer of them.  The animated scenes do not even make it across the entire State Street frontage. The dressed windows are interrupted at the Randolph corner by an uninspired collection of toy piles more akin to a retail endcap than a historic holiday window.

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At the Washington corner, things get even worse: adult mannequins sporting fashion clothing, perfect for deflating the holiday interest of any Windy City child.

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I’d love to tell you the storyline of the windows that do exist.  However, I couldn’t decipher one.  They seem to be an abbreviated series of vignettes about grotesque toys come to life in some way.

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What way or why I couldn’t figure. Not that there’s much life to speak of.  In an obvious attempt to try to sell the Christmas-shopping public on doing more with less, this year’s holiday windows have fewer moving parts and more garish blinking lights–for some indecipherable reason, frequently hidden inside semi-transparent vacuum cleaner-esque hoses and tubes.

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At first glance, things are more festive upstairs at the 7th-floor Walnut Room.  This year marks the 101st anniversary of the two-story tall Great Tree, set in the center of the hoary old restaurant’s main room. Last year, the store didn’t bother to decorate behind the embarrassingly cheesy cardboard cutout of a town set at the bottom of the tree, giving hordes of shoppers on the 8th-floor gallery above a clear view of wires, duct tape, and scuffed flooring.

This year, to its credit, Macy’s has placed actual, three-dimensional boxes and F.A.O. Schwarz-branded toys all the way under and around the tree, completing the holiday illusion for viewers from any angle. However, that improved view is of a surprisingly nondescript tree. Aside from the aforementioned toys, nothing is to be found bedecking the tree more interesting than inexpensive twinkle lights, cloth ornaments, and garland. The bling of years past is nowhere to be seen.

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And the sum of all of that is a shame. After the cost cuts in January, Macy’s made a very public attempt to try and heal the retail wounds it had wrought in Chicago over the previous two years since taking ownership of the former Marshall Field’s by narrow-marketing to local consumers.

Speaking as one of those local consumers, not to mention a downtown resident (I live steps up State Street from the store) and a former New Yorker who before moving to Lake Michigan shores would otherwise have had no axe to grind with Macy’s, Lundgren’s retail empire has blown it big time this holiday season in the heart of Chicago.

If this is the best Macy’s can do after almost three years of ire, perceived insult, and frankly disappointment from Windy City shoppers, something is very wrong at Lundgren’s shop. Starting at the top, and finishing with a heart-breaking holiday thud on the State Street pavement.

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