• Warren Shoulberg

Edward Finklestein, father of Macy’s Cellar, dies

New York – Edward S. Finkelstein, who as ceo created the template for the modern Macy’s we know now, died Saturday, May 31, of natural causes at age 89.

Finklestein served as chairman and chief executive officer for Macy’s in the 1970s and 1980s when it was still an independent retailing entity, and it was under his tenure that the store began to establish itself as a more exciting merchandiser with upscale products and promotions.

Perhaps his greatest achievement in the home area was the creation of The Cellar, a dedicated area for housewares products that combined merchandising displays and inventory with demo areas and even restaurants and markets.

The concept was tried first at Macy’s San Francisco when he ran that division and it moved east with him when he took over the New York division. Clearing out what had been the bargain basement at the Herald Square flagship, he created what was at the time the most revolutionary approach to housewares retailing perhaps ever.

The Cellar helped usher in the era of gourmet cookware and products and was every bit as responsible for the fundamental change in this business as Williams-Sonoma or the original Cuisinart food processor. Today it is considered the default merchandising strategy for any retailer in this classification.

The Cellar was one of many innovations Finklestein brought to Macy’s at the time, including more private label programs, a major cosmetics and beauty department on the main floor at Herald Square and in-store promotional events that rivaled the scale, if not quite the prestige, of then crosstown rival Bloomingdale’s.

Finklestein’s legacy was ultimately tainted in the end when he took Macy’s private in 1986, loading it up with debt that eventually drove the retailer into bankruptcy six years later. By that time, Finklestein had been forced out and many of the people in retailing who had admired him – and worked for him – eventually came to blame him for what had happened.

Finklestein went on to keep his hand in smaller retailing businesses but never again had a place on the national stage of the industry.

Macy’s was bought by Federated soon after the company emerged from bankruptcy, setting the groundwork for what would become the national nameplate – and corporate name – for the combined entity.

Finklestein is survived by his wife Myra, as well as sons Daniel and Mitchell, both of whom also worked at Macy’s in that era. Details on funeral arrangements were not available at press time.

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