I was just reading an article in the Chicago Tribune that reminded me how upset I am by the company that killed Marshall Field’s. That would be Federated Department Stores, which owns Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

I am not a Chicago native, and until a few years ago I really hated department stores. I didn’t get them at all. Marshall Field’s, with its rich history and its elegance and upscale brands, changed my mind. It was exactly what that kind of store should be. The truth is, I grew up in a town that had a Macy’s–and it was nowhere near as shiny and intimidating as the “real” department stores. I always thought of it as kind of cheap and crappy, and it’s not like I had that much shopping experience back then.

You almost can’t talk about the history of Chicago without mentioning Marshall Field’s. The first store was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. When I do volunteer work at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, I often mention that Wright had an account there and the plates his family used, which are on display in the butler’s pantry, came from Marshall Field’s. I always point out the fact that his son, John Kenneth, was a toy designer for Marshall Field’s and invented Lincoln Logs. Marshall Field’s, especially the store on State Street, was always a bustling and important part of city life. And that shoe department…well. I bought my wedding shoes there. And I enjoyed stopping by every holiday season to see the themed window displays.

I’ve been in the nearby Marshall Field’s since it became a Macy’s. They’d taken down all the original signage, leaving big gaping spots with nails in them on many of the walls. The ceiling was cracked. So was the floor. The silly little red star had replaced that rich green Marshall Field’s logo with the slanted script, and the place had become so bland and dingy I was actually shocked. I don’t usually notice things like that.

I was not a regular Marshall Field’s shopper, though I certainly respected its housewares department and the great high-end brands it always had. I liked the service, too. Going to Marshall Field’s always seemed like an Event. Mostly I bought beauty supplies there, or gift cards every Christmas. It’s hard to see now the private label brands and the downturn in quality that’s in evidence everywhere. Many people will point out that it has been a long time since Marshall Field’s was truly its own, and this is probably true. Frango Mints were outsourced years ago. But there’s been change, no doubt about it, since the store became Macy’s, and not for the better.

I will admit that some, if not most, of my feelings are due to nostalgia and the fact that I’m still smarting from the way Federated treated us Marshall Field’s customers. This is Chicago, and we are proud of our city. Bloomingdale’s got to keep its name, and to me that store isn’t half as important as Marshall Field’s is locally. The Macy’s executives (based in New York City, I imagine) kept saying really arrogant things about how we’d all change our minds once we walked into a Macy’s. They didn’t seem to care about us at all. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who decided that Macy’s was never going to get my business.

This issue bothers me more than it ought to. There are so many other things I should be worrying about right now–and many of those things have a right to my undiluted attention. But here I am, writing about shopping. I guess it’s about more than that to me. It’s about tradition and quality and how the priorities of today’s world continue to erase signs of a history worth remembering. I am not the type of person who normally pines for the past–I realize that there has always been bad along with the good, and I applaud many forms of progress. I still think this is a shame.

Helen, 34, in Glenview, Illinois, USA

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