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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 owners. 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 Chicago and 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 be officially changed to Macy's. For the citizens of Chicago, 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. 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 generously given back to the city of Chicago. It no wonder that Chicagoan felt so strongly about losing their store. Hundreds of Field's loyalist protested by boycotting in front of the new Macy's sidewalk the very next morning. Angry Field shoppers vented their frustration by cutting up their Macy's credit cards. Others sought to create online petitions, and form an online organization named "FieldFansChicago.org." to demonstrate their solidarity. Chicagoans felt just as strongly 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 when 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 150 years and take a look at how the amalgam of several business partnerships and creative innovation help create a retail empire and customer loyalty that would be passed down to many family generations.
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 road were unpaved and still had wooden sidewalks, yet Palmer found a four-story framed building to open up is new dry goods store called P. Palmer and Company.
The first year, Palmer's business thrived. In a place where merchant haggled over prices with their customers, Palmer created price tags on all his merchandise. This made a comfortable environment to shop. 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 and from the advice of his doctor, had to retired from his business. Potter Palmer admiring what Field and Leiter were doing and 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 bought out Leiter. Marshfield had full control and renamed the company Marshall Field and Company.
Along with Field, two other important partnerships would play into Marshall Field and Company becoming one the largest 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 that resulted to the real estate acquisitions 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. Eventually, Shedd headed the entire wholesale division by 1890. After Marshall Field death in 1906, Shedd took control of Fields retail empire as president.
Shedd continued to steer the company to greater height until he stepped down in 1923. Marshall Fields & Company over the next six decades went through more management changes until it was acquired by Dayton Hudson Corporation for 1.04 billion.
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. Frango mints and chocolates are still around. The two landmark clocks made famous by Norman Rockwell in 1945 remain here. The Walnut Room is still serving business luncheons. The Marshall Field legacy has bestowed a lot of gifts to Chicagoans that remain in tact despite the corporate takeovers. The greatest gift the new buyers of Macy’s could give Chicago is back the Marshall Fields name.
Sachdev, Ameet and Yue, Lorene. Chicago Tribune. 21 September 2005. Chicago Tribune Online Edition. 26 June 2007. <http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/>.
Answers.com Answers.com, Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Houghton Mifflin Company,
Columbia University Press, QuotationsBook.com, and Wikipedia. 25 June 2007.