Mourning the death of Marshall Field’s

September 27, 2007, 4:28 PM UTC

Just a quick note this morning. I was shocked to see the outpouring of bitterness and grief that has attended the death of the Marshall Field’s brand, which Macy’s (M) has apparently defenestrated. You may find said exhalations of regret and anger in response to a prior post on this site, the one inquiring what you believe to be the biggest business stories of 2007.

A huge number of you took the opportunity to expound on this story of a brand retired by its new corporate master. And not in any bogus, organized way, either. One by one, each by each, you line up to yell at Macy’s for depriving you of a brand that you loved and lost.

When I was a boy growing up outside Chicago, I have a sweet memory of the long days of boredom my parents would impose upon me. We would go downtown for the day. While there, we would (if I was lucky) visit the Museum of Science and Industry, which I loved, or, if I was less fortunate, the Art Institute, which made me feel like lying down on the cool marble floor and dozing. Somewhere in there, my mother would insist on a visit to Marshall Field’s. I imagine, and I may be wrong here, that we had lunch there, lunch being the centerpiece of any day for my mother.

What I remember most clearly was the way she said those words: Marshall Field’s. I’m not sure what we shopped for there. I have no idea whether her reverence for the brand was well-founded, even. Not even the names of Bergdorf Goodman or Tiffany (TIF) had the same heft for my mom. Marshall Field’s meant quality. It meant, for her, entering a world of class and calm and civility.

There were other stores that had the same weight, most of which are gone now. I recall that Best & Co. was a very big deal. My mom got me a little hat from there. It was made of felt. I wonder where it is now.

My first car was a Studebaker Lark. My first electric guitar? A Hagstrom. My first beer? Schlitz.

The brands that mark our lives are like everything else. They feel permanent, like signposts that will never confuse us, never alter with time. And then one day they are gone.

We can rail against the motion of the sun and moon. We can bemoan the passing of those things that were meant to last forever. And we can remember what it was like to enter the portals of Marshall Field’s in the great big city that made us feel so small, and wonder what mall, what superstore, what online shopping site will ever be able make our moms, or anybody else’s, feel quite that happy and elegant again.