This may be a eulogy for the beginning of the end of the great downtown department stores. The rise of the young depending on hand-held electronic devices to shop via e-commerce may doom shopping as we have known it. My prediction is that such stores will be replaced by customers viewing merchandise in 3-D on their iPad rather than hands-on, followed by home delivery. Chinese clothing manufacturers already provide free air shipments to America, which could be followed by direct competition at the retail level. Retailers could soon be stocking as much virtual, 3-D merchandise as real. Let’s hope my vision is wrong.
Marshall Fields (1834-1906)
This article is mostly a photo gallery to present a picture of what was and will be no more. To the young who never walked through Macy’s at Herald Square in mid-town Manhattan or the old Hudson’s on Woodward in downtown Detroit, or John A. Brown’s in Oklahoma City, this will give you some idea of their grandeur that words cannot present. Simply put, they were a wonderland compared with the world most of their customers came from. With society dividing into the affluent few and the strapped many, there is no longer a customer base to support them.
Not much to tell about Marshall Field the entrepreneur. He was born in Massachusetts and worked in a dry goods store there like those described in my earlier article. He moved to Chicago at age 21 and began work in Potter Palmer’s downtown dry goods store. The old man sponsored him and eased him into partnership then sole ownership, making him the wealthiest man in Chicago. Not interested in or even supportive of it, he had to be talked into donating $10 million to endow the Field Museum of Natural History, doing so only to ensure his legacy.
Much of his success was due to hiring Harry Gordon Selfridge, who later founded his eponymous store in London recently featured in a PBS program series. Over a 35-year period (1879-1914) he built the one-square block store bearing his name six blocks east of the loop in downtown Chicago.—for many years the largest department store in the world. The cards shown here provide a unique view of the palatial department stores of their era. *
• Special thanks to Ann [Mrs. Ronnie] Jones for the very generous gift of these cards.