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Once a State Street staple, department stores are now “a very small part of our lives” – CBS Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) – Shopping was a multi-hour experience, done in person, with lots of other people around. Today, many see it as a chore – a solo activity to be done as quickly as possible, often with a few clicks on a keyboard.

Morning Insider Jim Williams examines this trend and its impact on department stores.

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“We felt like we were going to the fanciest store in the world, and it was here in Chicago,” said Leslie Goddard, recalling his visits to Marshall Field’s.

For her, department stores are personal.

“My grandfather worked at Marshall Field. My aunt and uncle met while working at Marshall Field. I worked at Marshall Field’s, she says.

Now Goddard is an author and historian; and just wrote the book “Lost Chicago Department Stores”.

“I was interested in the memories, but also what led to their rise and what led to their fall,” she said.

The crowds were once crowded in Chicago’s department stores over the past century.

“Chicagoans loved it, loved it,” Goddard said. “Known for an incredible variety of merchandise, a place where they would treat you like royalty.”

At one point in the 1940s, eight department stores filled Congressional State Street in Randolph.

Marshall Field’s would become a hometown favorite, in part thanks to the famous Walnut Room restaurant and holiday window displays.

To this day, the plaque on the exterior of the former Marshall Field building on State Street – now a Macy’s – remains popular.

“There are very, very few institutions in the United States where tourists will come to photograph themselves in front of a company logo,” Goddard said.

But make no mistake, department stores are in decline.

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Macy’s recently closed its Water Tower store, with faded lettering on the exterior sign a sad reminder of better days for the department store chain.

“I’m sad about the loss of department stores,” Goddard said.

Sears started out as a catalog and opened its first downtown department store on State Street in 1932. Its last department store in Illinois – at Woodfield Mall – closed last year.

“Sears was, in a way, the Amazon of the day,” Goddard said.

Target replaced Carson Pirie Scott in the architectural gem designed by Louis Sullivan years ago.

In 2018, we saw old Carson’s stores turn into model cemeteries, before closing for good.

“At this point, department stores have become great clothing stores,” said David Swartz, Morningstar consumer analyst.

Swartz said Amazon was partly responsible for the demise of the department stores now that the online giant is a major clothing seller.

“People don’t have to walk around a department store for hours and look at stuff to find out what’s there because they can go online on their cell phones,” he said. he declares.

“Today they are only a very small part of our lives, and a lot of people are wondering if the pandemic is going to mean the end of the department store,” Goddard said.

Swartz, however, expects department stores to survive, albeit in a much smaller role.

“Yes, there are going to be department stores, but they won’t be what they used to be,” he said.

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Swartz said the excessive building of shopping malls in the United States and the decline of the middle class are also hurting department stores.


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