Suzanne Fields

Department stores were initially an improvement on specialty stores and the street hucksters because they offered fixed prices -- no haggling or bargaining -- on a wondrous variety of items all under one roof. Consumption became democratic, and the range of choice and price soon made the department store a palace, presided over by princes of merchandising. Dynasties followed. Many of the princes were sons of Jewish families, grandsons of peddlers, reflected in the names on the door of the stores that defined Main Street in cities across America: Kann, Lansburgh, Hecht, Garfinkel, Gimbel, Rich, Blass, Goldsmith. Isidor and Nathan Straus were the Bavarian Jewish brothers who built the "largest store on earth" at Herald Square in New York City in 1902. Macy's required 33 elevators to take customers to nine floors of merchandise. Decades before the computer would simplify things, a vast network of pneumatic tubes took the paperwork speeding from department to accounting, and eventually Macy's covered an entire block, the symbol of the department store. But that was then, and this is now, and that brings us back to Terry Lundgren and his dream of reviving Macy's.

Hecht's, one of the stores Federated acquired in downtown Washington, already shows new sparkle. One of the displays to catch a woman's eye is the display of cosmetics, and I recall how a little girl felt grown up, sampling the perfumes in gorgeous tiny bottles of different colored glass. I lament the loss of the old family name as Hecht's becomes another Macy's, but the old family is long gone, too. Fifty years ago, more than 4,000 department stores presided over Main Streets across America. We'll never see that again, but quantity isn't everything. Just a little quality and an appreciative word from someone who knows the merchandise ought to do it. Here's wishing Terry Lundgren good luck.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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