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It's time to save Field's

What's this? Federated Department Stores wants to buy May Department Stores, which bought Marshall Field's last summer? And Federated has a history of changing the names of all of their stores to "Macy's"? Which would mean the end of "Marshall Field's"?

I returned from the Sundance Film Festival feeling all was well with the world, only to read this harrowing information in Monday's Sun-Times, which quoted Bob Sirott's editorial on WTTW's Chicago Tonight deploring any such move. Bob urged us all to write Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and CEO of Federated, in protest.

In college I dated a really nice girl with a name something like "Lundgren" -- close enough, anyway, so that I am sure Mr. Lundgren is a swell fellow and will be grateful for my advice: Don't mess with Chicago, and don't mess with the name Marshall Field's. You will generate rage beyond your wildest nightmares. If you doubt me, Google the phrase "The Chicago Way."

If you change the name, I will invite Bob Sirott and other civic leaders I know, such as Studs Terkel, Jesse Jackson, Maggie Daley, Linda Johnson Rice, Ron Magers, Barack Obama, Virginia Madsen, Billy Goat Sianis, Tiffani Kim, Richard Roeper, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Dahl, Sue Gin, Jerry Springer, Mancow Muller, Mark Brown and Marshall Field, to join me under the clock at FIELD'S to burn our Marshall Field's charge cards. I will ask Sammy Sosa to return for the day. Michael Jordan will come without even being asked. He's just that kind of guy.

Federated Department Stores Inc. no doubt has a corporate historian. Well, probably not. But if it did, the historian could tell Mr. Lundgren that Marshall Field's was the world's first department store, and that from its loins descended all other department stores everywhere -- yes, even Macy's. Even Gimbel's. Even Wal-Mart.

It was founded in 1852, three years after Harrods in London, to be sure, but Harrods in those days was not so much a department store as, well, just a store waiting for Marshall Field to show it what it wanted to be when it grew up. It was the original Marshall Field, with the always useful slogan "Give the Lady What She Wants," who changed the face of retailing. Merchants from London, New York and Paris journeyed to Chicago to gaze upon his wonderful store, and went home to open their own. Without the example of Marshall Field's, which inspired its famous stores such as Selfridge's, London's Oxford Street would be lined with hairdressers and pants pressers.

We here in Chicago are fiercely proud of our city and its traditions. We do not much want to shop at Macy's. In fact, we would rather die, or at least take sick days. The impact on the economy could be considerable. If the name is changed, we would march as a body, perhaps even as an orderly mob, down the street to Carson's or up the street to Bloomingdale's or across the lobby in Water Tower Place to Lord & Taylor, and never again darken your doors. If you change the store's name to Macy's but continue the Field's tradition of Christmas window decorations, you might as well just put Bad Santa in the window and replace the carols with a funeral march. Then you could consider buying the Cubs and renaming them the Mets.

And here is a medical alert: No Chicagoan would find it possible to pronounce the words "Meet you under the clock at Macy's" without turning purple, falling to the pavement, and possibly having several ribs broken by well-meaning citizens performing the Heimlich maneuver. Think of the lawsuits.

In closing, Mr. Lundgren, thank you for your time, which you can check, if you wish, under the clock at FIELD'S.

Footnote, Feb. 2, 2005. I’ve received this message from a reader, Phyliss Hering:

“I lived in Chicago for 11 years in the early 70s. I now live in New York City and to this day hardly ever miss your movie review show. I now work for Federated Department Stores. I, like you, believe: DON'T CHANGE THE FIELD'S NAME. But I read you column regarding Federated and May Co. and had a chuckle at the following comment:

'If the name is changed, we would march as a body, perhaps even as an orderly mob, down the street to Carson's or up the street to Bloomingdale's or across the lobby in Water Tower Place to Lord & Taylor, and never again darken your doors.'

"First, go to Bloomie's! We own them too. Second, we will own Lord & Taylor too (which will probably turn into Macy's).”

My response: That’s fine with me. I don’t plan to boycott Federated, just any store that once was called Marshall Field’s and isn’t called Marshall Field’s anymore.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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