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Macy's Is Closing 100 Stores. Where Does That Leave Marshall Field's Loyalists?

By Gwendolyn Purdom in News on Aug 11, 2016 7:25PM

Photo credit: Steve Ives

Nearly 10 years after department store giant Macy's stripped dozens of Marshall Field's locations of their historic hometown identities and turned them into Macy's outposts, there are plenty of people who still haven't gotten over it.

There's the still-active Fields Fans Chicago group, who have been pushing to revive the Field's brand since the Chicago department store chain was bought by Macy's in 2005. There's Strategic Marks, a California-based business that tried, unsuccessfully, to cash in on the Field's brand just this past February. And, of course, there are the native Chicagoans raised on Marshall Field's, and its charming, 19th century green clock and melty mints, who still refuse to give Macy's their business (full disclosure: my mom is one of them). So what then, are members of #TeamFields to make of the news announced Thursday that Macy's will be closing 100 of their stores nationwide?

The news came as no surprise to Jim McKay, co-organizer of the Field's Fans group.

"[Macy's closing 100 stores] is not unexpected at all because department stores have gotten so much less unique. They're the same everywhere now," McKay told Chicagoist Thursday. "It used to be that if you were traveling to a new town, you'd check out their stores to see what was different. In Chicago, people came to Marshall Field's."

Field's Fans in action, declaring their loyalty. Via Field's Fans Chicago

Macy's won't announce which specific locations will close until a later date, according to a press release the company put out Thursday, but McKay says there was some talk of Chicago's flagship State Street store considering leasing out some upper floors on a conference call Macy's had with investors he listened to Thursday morning.

"We see this as a positive movement, that they're willing to consider change and because of their struggles they're going to have to consider bringing back Marshall Field's," he said.

Macy's has made no such public declaration, though after the suit brought against Strategic Marks in February, the California business chief executive told the Tribune, Macy's "really wanted" to keep the Marshall Field's brand. Field's Fans would like to see that brand brought back or taken on by another department store that is willing to make Marshall Field's the store it once was, McKay says. It's why he and his fellow activists attended the Macy's stockholders meeting in May and made the same request they've been making since they started attending the meetings in 2008.

The group, which McKay says has a mailing list of more than 2,500, hasn't faded from the public eye even as the battle between Macy's and Marshall Field's has over the years. In this year's Pride Parade, members and supporters from as far away as D.C, Boston and L.A. carried signs that encouraged people to boycott Macy's and touted Marshall Field's as having been Chicago's "First Gay-Friendly Employer." The group had a presence at the St. Patrick's Day Parade and picketed outside Macy's with signs that mentioned one potentially interested buyer, Canada-based Selfridges department store, around Christmas time.

In its press release, Macy's emphasized plans to "elevate [better-performing locations' ] status as preferred shopping destinations," which translates to adding more special features like personal shopping and in-store events at the stores that are still profitable. It's a move presumably designed to lure shoppers who've taken their shopping online (and dealt a serious blow to the retail industry) back into physical stores.

"If it stays Macy's [as it is now]," McKay said, "it's inevitable that it will close sooner or later."