The Price Tag of Marshall Field & Company
According to several news sources, the department store Macy's could have itself yet another new owner. The rumor mill is spinning of it's possible new purchaser. Some of the names that are circulating are private equity firms Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Capital Partners, Providence, C.E.O. of department store chain J.C. Penny, Allen Questrom. What good news will this hold for Chicagoans if the rumor comes to fruition? The Marshall Field name and its traditions could be given back to the city that has so much history and meaning attached to its citizens.
September 8th, 2006 would be the last day that Chicagoans had shopped at Marshall Field's. The very next day, the downtown department store name would have been officially changed to Macy's. For the residents, it meant more than just a name changed. It represented the lost a century of history and tradition. "When you talk about Chicago, you talk about Marshall Field's," cried April Murphy, a mother of two who had been bringing her two children to the downtown department store as soon as they could walk. (Sachdev/Yue).
For more than a century, residents have enjoyed the winter ritual of walking on Chicago's downtown State Street in the brisk winters just to glaze at the decorative Christmas display windows at Marshall Field. No longer will loyal shoppers come out of the doors carrying in both hands the green shopping bags that Field’s was famous for. And no longer will out-of-towners be able to experience the store that was responsible for giving birth to so many Chicago landmarks today.
The Merchandise Mart, The Palmer House, The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, The Art Institute, and the University of Chicago are all births from the wealth that was generously given back to the city of Chicago by the philanthropist. It’s no wonder that Chicagoan felt so emotional about losing their store. Hundreds of Field's loyalist protested the unwelcome New York department store by boycotting in front of the sidewalk the very next morning. Angry Field shoppers vented their frustration by publicly cutting up their Macy's credit cards. Others created solidarity by creating an online petition, and forming organization named "FieldFansChicago.org." Chicagoans seemed to have felt just as impetuous on September 9th to losing their Marshall Field's department store as they did at the death of Marshall Field himself on January 16th, 1906. On that day, the Chicago Board to Trade suspending trading that afternoon in his honor. To understand why Chicagoan felt so deeply about losing Marshall Fields,
we have to turn back the history pages and look at how an amalgam of several business partnerships and ethical retail practices help create a 150 years old retail empire and customer loyalty.
Potter Palmer, a 26 year old arrived in Chicago on 1852 from Lockport, New York with $5,000 to start a new business. Chicago had yet to be incorporated. The roads were unpaved and still had wooden sidewalks, yet Palmer was able to find a four-story framed building to open up his new dry goods store called P. Palmer and Company.
The first year, Palmer's business prospered. In a place where merchant haggled over prices with their customers, Palmer created price tags on his entire store’s merchandise. This made a comfortable environment for shoppers. It was Palmer who came up with the "no questions asked" return and exchange policy which was an unheard of business practice during this time.
Marshall Field arrived in Chicago in 1856. He shortly thereafter found employment with Cooley, Wadsworth & Company; a wholesale dry goods house earning a yearly salary of $400.00. Over the next four years, Field aggressively worked his way up to become a junior partner with the company now known as Cooley, Farwell &
Company. Cooley retired from his wholesale/retail business and Field found himself as a senior partner and Levi Z. Leiter, who started with the company as a bookkeeper from Springfield as junior partner.
In 1864, Palmer became ill. At the advice of his doctor, had to retired from his wholesale business. Potter Palmer admiring what Field and Leiter were doing with Cooley, Farwell & Company approached them to partner with his business. In 1865, after reaching an agreement, Field, Palmer & Leiter and Company was created. In 1867, the business was profitable enough to allow Field and Leiter to buy out the Palmers (Potter Palmer’s brother had interest in the business) and the named the firm Field, Leiter & Company. By 1881, the relationship between Field and Leiter became strained and Field forced a buyout to Leiter. Marshfield now had full control and renamed his company Marshall Field and Company.
Along with Field, two other important partnerships would be quintessential to Marshall Field and Company becoming the most successful retail stores in the world. Harry Selfridge and John G. Shedd helped build the empire and loyalty that would last through several generations. Harry Selfridge was responsible for creating the “bargain basement”, a restaurant in the store, and suggestions to Field to aquire real estate that lead eventually to Fields owning the entire block.
Selfridge was given a junior partnership before leaving Fields to open up his own retail department store in London in 1904.
John Shedd started with the company as a stock boy and eventually was given more responsibilities as the company grew. Ultimately, Shedd would heade the entire wholesale division by 1890. After Marshall Field death in 1906, Shedd took control of Fields retail empire as president and drove its success even higher until he stepped down in 1923.
Marshall Field & Company over the next six decades went through more management changes until it was acquired by Dayton Hudson Corporation for 1.04 billion dollars.
Marshall Field and Company has given Chicago a lot of warm memories over the years. Some memories have stayed since Macy’s has taken over. The world famous Frango mints and Chocolates can still be purchased. The two landmark clocks made famous in a painting by Norman Rockwell in 1945 still tick on State Street. The Walnut Room is still serving business luncheons. The Marshall Field legacy has bestowed a lot of gifts to Chicagoans. The greatest gift the possible new purchasers of Macy’s could give Chicago is back the Marshall Fields name. That would be priceless.