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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.

2008randolph.jpg

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

2008washington.jpg

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.

2008windows1.jpg

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.

2008windows2.jpg

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.

2008tree.jpg

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.

Categories: Huffington Post Chicago Reprints Macy's State Street Shopping

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

10 replies

  1. So disappointing. I took my family downtown to see the windows (a family tradition since I was child — over 35.years!).. and never have we been so saddened. We didn’t even recognize that the windows WERE decorated. We thought it was their typical sales-window, not a decorated christmas window.

  2. With the retail outlook being bleak at best for this season, I’m surprised that they (Macy’s ) management decided to bring back many of the designer labels that were discontinued after the changeover…perhaps the new guy from NYC looked at the Field’s sales figures and guessed that upscale merchandise did sell at State Street. I just hope that if things don’t move at the pace they want, they will pull Hart Marx and Abboud, among others again…it will take a couple of selling seasons and a bit ‘o economic recovery and advertising before folks realize some good stuff might be actually available again.

  3. As a person who has not stepped foot in any Macy’s since they did away with Marshall Fields, I can’t say I’m surprised they’ve killed the windows. They’ve killed everything else that would make me want to shop there.

  4. Jamie and Kevin, I hear you both. Jamie, I always rebut Macy’s boneheaded idea that anyone actually cares that they’re coast to coast this way:

    When was the last time you chose your vacation destination because of a retail store? The vast majority of people who shop at department stores wherever they are located are locals. And they are far more interested to know what Macy’s is doing for them in their own towns than across the country.

    Can it be any more clear than that? Lundgren thinks the Macy’s chain is no different than a McDonald’s or a Target. Hello, Terry? Even Target knew they weren’t the same when they owned the Chicago Macy’s stores (under their former Marshall Field’s nameplate).

    Obviously Lundgren thinks he knows something the rest of the retail world already knows is bunk. Personally, I think he’s just covering his ass to protect an eventual golden parachute. But that’s just my opinion, your mileage may very.

    Although I would be very surprised if it did.

  5. I feared this would happen. I am also a little hesitant to say “Macy’s”. Macy’s hasn’t existed since it was purchased by the Cincinnati based Federated Department Stores in 1994. Federated is an uninspired conglomerate who has been gobbling up failing regional chains for close to two decades and has been contributing to the great “mono-toning” of the US retail landscape.

    Federated is good at earning money for stockholders, not at sustaining inspired, regional retail. They changed their name in 2007 to Macy’s, hoping to cash-in on the historic New York retailer’s genuine brand credentials. Their underlying (and somewhat arrogant) thinking is that in our “great mobile society” people want the same store experience from coast to coast. In other words, running things like McDonalds. While this certainly does lend an economy of scale to the bottom line, you are left with a blanched, ghost-like brand devoid of any true personality.

    While you could argue that this is the way to run retail in today’s world, I can’t believe it is sustainable over the long haul. My personal feeling is that you will see a backlash against this “corporate” blanding of our shopping experience. Consumers will slowly return to regional and ma & pop establishments in search of something “real”. I’m not sure of how this works on a business level, but I see it being demanded at the consumer level.

    Rest in peace Marshall Fields, and all the other, great regional retail we once had. I for one will be doing all my Christmas shopping at locally owned stores, helping build the next wave of truly great, local stores.

  6. I walked by Macy’s earlier today and was surprised and saddened by the poor quality window displays. The first window I saw was the adult mannequins and initially thought the Christmas windows were axed all together.

    The only comforting thing about Macy’s taking over Fields was that they had promised to continue the Fields traditions. I guess after running the store into the ground, that promise is now out the window (no pun intended).

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