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Plowing Field's won't grow business

I met J. C. Penney once. The old man visited the Penney's store on Main Street in Urbana. He shook my hand, gave me a penny, and said if I took care of my pennies and nickels, my dimes and dollars would take care of themselves. At the end of a week, I had 10 cents, which I used to see a movie at the Princess Theater. The movie was 9 cents. The extra penny went for an all-day sucker.

Now I feel like the all-day sucker. Terry J. Lundgren, the three-headed chairman, president and CEO of Federated Department Stores, came to town Tuesday and informed Mayor Daley that he is changing the name of Marshall Field's to Macy's. I thought the day would never come. I am looking at my Field's charge card, which I have cut up into tiny pieces. They look like little tears the color of money.

Initial reaction to the change was "mixed," say the Chicago news media, which have expressed an admirable degree of outrage despite licking their lips at all the new Macy's ads. Federated has surveys claiming a majority of Chicago shoppers support the change or are neutral. Federated should fire its marketing firm, because these results are (a) unlikely, and (b) useless, since nobody believes them anyway. If I had the job of the three-headed one, I would simply announce that Chicagoans supported the plan, and save the money I spent on the survey.

For that matter, if I were Lundgren, I would retain the name Marshall Field's simply because it would earn me goodwill and save me bad publicity. On CNN Wednesday morning, business reporters based in New York and Atlanta were giving their own opinions that this decision was unwise, unexpected and incredible. I think one used the word "crazy." In every corner of America that has lost a little of its soul to heartless corporate bean counters, the decision will have an echo.

Sure, sell Macy's merchandise in Marshall Field's. They have a lot of brand names already. Even call it "Macy's at Marshall Field's." But why slap the faces of Chicagoans who love the World's First and Greatest Department Store? There was never one day in the entire history of Macy's when anyone, in New York or anywhere else, thought it was the equal of Field's. What is Macy's? A Thanksgiving parade. Gobble, gobble.

The decision is a form of imperialism. The new corporate executives see their companies as empires and colonize new lands like the imperial powers of history. If Columbus could claim America for Queen Isabella, if America could plant its flag on the moon, then why can't Terry Lundgren wade ashore in Chicago, plant his flag at Randolph and State, and tell the natives they only thought it belonged to them?

I hope we don't all catch chickenpox or the measles from him. That's what wiped out the Incas and Aztecs, you know. I hope Mayor Daley used Lifebuoy soap after shaking Lundgren's hand. My dad used to read the Lifebuoy label out loud: Protects against Small Pox, Scarlet Fever, Scarlatina, Measles, Whooping Cough, Typhoid and Typhus Fever.

Lundgren threw Chicago two bones. He "may" return the manufacture of Frango Mints to the State Street kitchens. Great. I feel like the rat that spent three weeks crawling through a maze and all he found was a salted nut. And he "may" retain the actual brass Marshall Field's nameplate on the State Street store. He damn well should. I am calling on Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd), who mows the Loop like it's the front yard of his bungalow, to introduce legislation designating the brass nameplate as a landmark. If the measure does not pass the City Council, then I am glad they gave me the key to the city. Next time I'll remember to lock up at night.

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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