This move kills off a 153-year-old brand that survived the Chicago Fire but now succumbs to bottom-line concerns of its new owner, Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc.
With the 62 Marshall Field's stores becoming Macy's, Federated will complete the national footprint it has long sought to make the chain, known as the backdrop in the holiday film "Miracle on 34th Street," a powerhouse.
That reasoning was little comfort for Chicago shoppers.
The announcement aroused widespread anger across Chicago, where people often tell each other to "meet under the Field's clock" on State Street.
"Macy's should stay in New York and Field's should stay in Chicago," said 87-year-old Helena Beadal of Chicago, who has fond memories of shopping on State Street and still meets a friend there every Tuesday. "I'm thinking of closing my [charge] account."
Macy's doesn't belong on State Street, added 21-year-old Olugbemisola Oke, a sales associate at the store. "People really come here for the name," she said. "It's a Chicago icon."
By the 2006 holiday shopping season, Chicagoans who flock to the ornate displays at the flagship store on State Street will be looking into the windows of a Macy's.
Federated Chief Executive Terry Lundgren defended the decision. Citing internal market research, he said "two-thirds of those surveyed in the Chicago market felt neutral to positive--largely neutral--about the name change from Marshall Field's to Macy's."
The reaction was anything but neutral after the name change was announced. An unscientific online Chicago Tribune poll was indicative of the emotional response: More than 96 percent said they would be less like to shop at Field's if the name is changed to Macy's. More than 14,000 people had voted as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley took a philosophical view of the loss of the Field's name, announced as the State Street store plays host to numerous Fashion Week events.
"Retailing has changed and lifestyles have changed and business has changed, but we should never be afraid of change," he said.
Indeed, the fate of Field's name is a familiar story in this time of retail industry consolidation. Since March, longtime regional names have fallen in markets from Miami to Seattle as Federated fashions Macy's into a national nameplate that can be advertised coast to coast. Macy's brand-building got a boost last month when Federated completed its acquisition of Field's parent, May Department Stores Co., in a deal to create a $30 billion department store chain.
`Very challenging business'
In explaining the decision to shelve the Field's name, Lundgren said that regional department stores are "in a very challenging business," getting nibbled at by bigger national players for apparel basics and by upscale chains for luxury goods.
"That's why you don't see them anymore," he said of regional chains. "Marshall Field's is a great name and a fabulous business in many ways. But it's not doing very well, and it hasn't been for years."
Lundgren declined to comment on a statement by a Field's executive earlier this year that the $2.5 billion chain had a sales upswing in 2004, its first since 1999. Figures published earlier this year by May Department Stores also showed that Field's sales rose in 2004.
If there was a silver lining in the announcement, it came during a meeting Lundgren had with Daley in his City Hall office Tuesday morning.