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Jennifer Marks

Thanks for the memories

Wall Streeters and other observers of the retail scene will consider Federated Department Store's interest in Marshall Field's a natural, as far as deals go.

Federated is clearly the most galvanized of the department store conglomerates these days. From opening freestanding home stores (and furniture stores) to experimenting with smaller formats, such as the soon-to-open mini-Bloomies in Soho, to its "reinvent" store remodel program with centralized checkouts, it is the most aggressive in its channel in refashioning itself to suit contemporary consumer shopping habits.

The strategy to bring all non-Bloomingdale's properties under the Macy's nameplate will give Federated national advertising leverage and greater merchandising efficiency in marketing the 423 stores affected by the change.

The addition of the 62 Marshall Field's units in eight upper Midwestern states would fill a hole in Federated's geographic portfolio rather nicely.

So I can understand why Marshall Field's is attractive.

But as a daughter of Illinois and one-time Chicago resident, I can't help being anxious about its fate. To be honest, I don't care what becomes of the Field's stores in St. Cloud, Minn., and Fargo, N.D. Rename 'em. Shut 'em down. Whatever.

But Macy's State Street? Macy's Watertower Place? No! No! No!

On the other hand, the alternate fate is probably worse. Marshall's on Michigan Avenue is a five-minute walk from Bloomingdale's on Michigan in one direction, and a 12-minute walk from the fabulous Bloomingdale's Home Store in the other. That home store is also a quick cab ride away from Field's State Street. I can't imagine that Federated needs or intends to operate four downtown stores in such relative proximity.

Downtown shoppers aren't the only ones facing the loss of a beloved emporium. Field's operates 16 stores in greater Chicagoland. I just don't see Federated calculating a need for a similar number of Macy's.

Obviously, the absorption and likely downsizing of yet another retail account can hardly come as welcome news to Field's suppliers. And how ironic that the once-visionary department store that staked its claim on giving the lady what she wants should be on the block at the same time its once-proprietary Fieldcrest label is also being shopped around.

But enough about the trade. I'm being partisan and sentimental today. Which puts me on the wrong side of history.

Just as folks in New Orleans have learned to live without their Maison Blanche and the denizens of Los Angeles have moved along without The Broadway, so will the people of Chicago adjust. Already, the hordes along The Magnificent Mile have voted with their dollars for the Disney Store and ESPN Zone where once Bonwit Teller and Koch & Bentano's held sway.

So, Marshall Field's, if we must part, thanks for the memories.

And to Cincinnati, a humble plea. If nothing else, keep the Frango Mints.

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