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  • Jennifer Marks

Give The Lady What She Wants

As a native of downstate Illinois, news that the Marshall Field's name will soon drop into the ash can of history pains me. As an adjunct to the home textiles industry, the loss of yet another independent buying team concerns me.

But as a journalist who's been covering the retail industry for nearly 15 years, I can't pretend to be much surprised.

Visiting family in Chicago a year ago, I asked what everybody thought about Field's and how they would feel were it to disappear. Their reactions resulted in an interesting (although wholly unscientific) generational snapshot.

My sister Lorraine, early 40's, said she still shopped Field's “for certain things” and would hate to see it go. Sister-in-law Elizabeth, early 30's, said of the notion Field's might vanish, “the sooner the better.” (She's a dedicated Nordstrom's and Bed Bath & Beyond gal.)

Lorraine's mother-in-law — who is too good-looking for me to guess her age — holds the opinion that “Field's hasn't been Field's for years.”

Every so often someone suggests Home Textiles Today run a list of all the stores that no longer exist. I don't think anybody needs to see it in print; we can all readily reel off the list.

As every student of retailing knows, the legendary Marshall Field's motto was “Give the lady what she wants.” And while the good ladies of Chicago may currently agonize at the prospect of the Macy's name beaming out over State Street, it is ultimately the culmination of the ladies' own shopping decisions.

We vote with our dollars every day. We can vote for the Broadway store, or we can vote for Banana Republic. We can vote for Venture Stores, or we can vote for Target. We can vote for Montgomery Ward, or we can vote for Crate & Barrel.

During my days as a reporter at The Times-Picayune, many New Orleanians bemoaned the fate of Maison Blanche and D.H. Holmes — even as they raced to the new Macy's South to shop. That's how the world works, folks. That's how it has always worked. I'm willing to bet that 100 years ago, owners of dry goods stores across the nation were gnashing their teeth over the upstart Sears catalog.

As far as consumers are concerned, there are only three kinds of stores: crappy, okay and good. So Field's disappears — and H&M announces that Stella McCartney will design its next Big Name, one-off collection.

There will be new nameplates. There are always new nameplates. While the big get bigger, some of the small get bigger, too. Pottery Barn is now the 10th largest home textiles retailer in the country. Anna's Linens is the 18th.

True, the new growth companies don't buy the way the old-line stores did. But then again, neither do the consumers.

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