Yes Virginia, There is a Successful Macy’s

When recently in New York I visited the pantheon of American retailing, the Herald Square R. H. Macy’s department store, the flagship of the chain and the largest department store in the world, almost the size of the original Mall of America.

img_2942I first went as a teenager, and was impressed by its massiveness and its wooden escalators.

I have been back a couple of times since then. It is the local Macy’s store on steroids of course. There is more of everything, packed more densely. But it has many of the same departments, as well as many more.

It was mobbed. Granted it is November, but it is still more than a week before Thanksgiving.

Its mobbed-ness cannot be said of other Macy’s flagships, which are under threat of closure. Most notable for me is the Minneapolis store, which may follow the sad fate of its eastern neighbor in St. Paul. I have only been to the downtown Minneapolis store a few times, we bought a suitcase there the second day the Hiawatha LRT was open (June 27, 2004 I recall), because the ride was free and we wanted to try it out, and we wound up downtown and needed a suitcase. In short that is the problem, we seldom go downtown. It’s not just the parking, but it certainly is easier to get in and out of Rosedale from where we live, or MoA. And downtown, especially along Nicollet is deadish, especially compared to any street in Manhattan, even with its skyscrapers.

Obviously Manhattan has about 10 times as many workers and residents as downtown Minneapolis. But it also has 10 times as much retail it seems. So that should be in balance.

There were once many more department stores in downtown Minneapolis (so legend speaks), but times have changed. Given that downtown Minneapolis is over the long-term more or less stable in employment, and rapidly gaining residents, one would think there should be more not less demand for retail. So Macy’s in Minneapolis is doing something wrong. This is not unique, lots of other cities have the same problem. One certainly could throw some blame at online retail, and far more at suburbanization of retailing and especially the rise of big boxes, which occurred everywhere, though perhaps less in New York than elsewhere. Yet Macy’s in New York seems to thrive.

I believe Macy’s made a huge mistake going with national branding rather than retaining local brands (Dayton’s in Minneapolis, Marshall Field in Chicago, and so on). Like sports teams and newspapers, people want a local touch, not a national chain, for their flagship stores and their shopping malls. They used to talk pride in their home town department store, cherishing the small differences between their local store and the chain. Now it is not the Best Dayton’s in America, it is a second-tier Macy’s store. Minnesotans feel far less loyalty and reason to spend money.

I will also add that Macy’s situation belies the New York Superiortarian Anthem “New York, New York” If you can make it here (there) you can’t necessarily make it anywhere else.


Random thought. I also went to Bloomingdale’s as a teenager. I remember buying a book “Unbuilt America“, damaged and on remainder there while I was in high school. Department stores used to be much cooler somehow.