Recently a dear friend forwarded on to me
a headline from Minneapolis. It shared that
Macy's was probably closing down their
flagship on Nicollet Mall. While saddened
by said news, I was somehow also relieved.
That's because said vestige of my past was
finally being given a reprieve from it's long
descent to destruction. Hence it's better for
all who were once connected with the retail
bastion named Dayton's to have it's ghost
finally busted. That insures prior glories are
no longer usurped by mediocrity, deep cost
cutting measures, and corporate stupidity.
My mercantile memories come a world
of folks like Arnold Constable, Barney's,
B. Altman, Bergdorf Goodman, Best & Co,
Bonwit Teller, Franklin Simon, Gimbels,
Lord & Taylor, R.H.Macy, Peck & Peck,
Saks Fifth Avenue, Stern Brothers, and
even E.J. Korvettes. In the midst of their
final post war growth spurt, said retailers
did more than sell merchandise. They were
cultural leaders who brought the world to
their customers via superb showmanship.
And yet decades later, all of that was but
a faded memory. Gone and... forgotten.
When I first talked with Target Corporation
about joining their department store business
I wasn't necessarily excited. A former New
Yorker, my perception of Marshall Field &
Company was tentative at best. While it was
amongst the better of Chicago department
stores, it wasn't Neiman Marcus or I Magnin.
They'd just closed our location in Columbus,
Ohio so I wondered where they were going.
Then I visited the Minneapolis home office
in the former Dayton's flagship. Quickly I
was hooked by it's veritable treasure trove
of top tier brands, people, and talent. WOW!
Past and present
Upon joining Marshall Field's (formerly
Dayton Hudson) my desk was an antique
library table. Imbedded in it's top was a
brass plaque stating it had been a gift to
George Dayton from his staff in 1910.
Hence I felt a responsibility to carry on
the legacy of innovative retailers like
him for future generations. Within such
an august context of excellence, we had
no choice but to be/do our best. Each
and every member of the team pushed
themselves to new heights. And soon
nothing seemed to stand in our way.
Green with envy
At that point the department store
category was already far into it's sad
decline. However the Target leaders
wanted to recapture the glory days.
Thus for the next several years we
orchestrated a renaissance. In Chicago
the State Street flagship was revived,
restored, and reinvented. As was the
Nicollet Mall store that sat below our
offices. Both served as laboratories for
innovation and experimentation as we
carefully honed our strategy out to all
of our remaining eighty plus locations.
View from the top
In hindsight these were the best of times.
I was privileged to work with some of the
most talented, smart, and facile folks ever
assembled. Step by step, inch by inch we
transformed what had been deemed "old
school" into a new world. Soon acrobats
strutted down a vertical runway upon our
facade. From flower shows to Santa Claus
extravaganzas to over the top events to
Parisian Flea Markets to celebrities to the
best dining in town - every one considered
our Chicago and Minneapolis flagships
"must see" destinations and treasures.
In Minneapolis we sold everything from
Chanel to Frango chocolates. Our kitchen
was considered the top caterer in the city.
Our interior decorators were consistently
voted the best in town. Almost everyone
annually attended our holiday auditorium
display before visiting Santa. All of this
and more made us the undisputed retail
leader. So much so that in defeat, Saks
turned their nearby store into an outlet.
The worst performing Neiman Marcus in
the chain struggled a block further down
Nicollet Mall. And then we were SOLD.
For those most devoted, transitioning to
Macy's was unthinkable. The day after
the sale was announced the calls started
coming in. First Georgio Armani. Next
a litany of top tier labels who populated
the Oval Room. All stated they would
not allow their goods in a Macy's bag.
The end was inevitable. Yet for over a
decade a dedicated core of diehards did
their best against all odds. The Nicollet
flagship became one of many. Hence
ultimately neglect and mediocrity are
what fueled it's slow and sad demise.
Nothing is forever. Thus we must treasure
what we've got while it lasts. One cannot
rest upon their laurels. As soon as you are
on top the only option beyond holding on
is downward. The best leaders constantly
push themselves higher and higher. There
is no more precious commodity than local
business ownership. National chains win
through parody. And so if one desires the
unique to survive in a community, we all
must support and fight for it. Otherwise
what was once beloved will soon be but
a forgotten memory of times long gone.