A recent story in the New York Times reports that Macy’s is trying to win back customers by “going local.” Along with stores like Best Buy and (ironically enough) Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s is tailoring some merchandise to appeal to local tastes, from Atlanta to Seattle.

This practice might come to be called “Faux Porching,” a practice comparable to “greenwashing.” One thing that goes wholly unmentioned in the article is what happens to the profits that are raked in by the likes of Macy’s. First the local department stores killed off smaller local businesses. Then the national chains killed off the local department stores (like Rich’s in Atlanta, or a place where I recall my parents shopping, G. Fox in Hartford, CT). Those national chains are beholden above all to the relentless demands for positive quarterly returns from stockholders of Federated Department Stores, Inc., who have no particular stake in any particular community in which a Macy’s branch sets up shop. Macy’s relationship to any given “locality” is based on the aim of extracting as many local dollars as possible in order to send them upstream to New York where, severely reduced by the extraction fees exacted by Wall Street, they end up in the portfolios of “owners” who don’t really care how those profits were gotten, so long as there’s a profit to be had.

The very operation that has contributed so mightily to the destruction of the coherence of localities now props itself up on whatever meager gleanings can still be extracted through the fading nostalgia of local attachments.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. amazing you post this today as we were just chatting about Bamberger’s. The Macy’s chain in NJ was originally Bamberger’s – the perfect example of local (well statewide) business and the profit “staying home”. The first Bamberger’s store was in Newark – eventually they built a square block store of 14 stories which anchored the Newark downtown. The family also built the Newark Museum, the Newark YMHA, contributed greatly to the establishment of Newark’s Beth Israel Hospital and financed the planting of the famous cherry trees in Branch Brook Park – a park even now in Newark’s sad times – still very much worth the visit during cherry blossom time. Most famously – the family took all of their money out of the stock market just a few weeks before the crash thus saving their fortune and as an act of gratitude they gave 5 million to establish the Institue for Advanced Studies (Einstein et.al.’s eventual haunt).

    The stores were taken over by Macy’s but continued with the Bamberger name until Federated Stores (which I believe is a French outfit) took them over. They eliminated the Bamberger name and closed the Newark store – putting the last nail in the coffin of the Newark downtown until more recent efforts to revitalize it.

    So yes Dr. Deneeen – I do doubt that despite their “localizing” the product line that the anonymous owners of Macy’s are going to start to build museums, hospitals and beautify parks for those localities. And while the Bamberger’s certainly were wealthy – they shared that wealth with their community for its betterment – an example are current crop of carpetbaggers clearly aren’t following.

  2. Not to mention the venerable granddaddy of local department stores, Marshall Field’s, now just a spiffed-up Macy’s as well.

  3. From the wheels within wheels department: Hudson’s, the Detroit area local department store since the early 20th century, was bought out by Marshall Fields sometime in the 90’s, which was, as noted above, purchased by Macy’s. Two other asides: the flagship Hudson’s, a multistory downtown Detroit landmark was (in)famously imploded in the late 90s like so much of the city appears now. Secondly, Hudson’s was the namesake sponsor of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is just about as old as the one that shall not be named in New York. Ironically, the parade, sans department store sponsorship, in Detroit is still going strong, unlike the city it winds through.

  4. In Florida, it was Burdines, which started out in 1896, and even billed itself as “The Florida Store.” They went the same route — Federated Department Stores — but kept the Burdines name up into the 2000’s. Today, they are all Macy’s.

  5. Same here in Pittsburgh. We had Gimbels, Joseph Horne’s, and Kaufmann’s, the latter two chains originating here — by the mid-90’s they all eventually became either Lazarus or Macy’s, then just Macy’s.

  6. I am not so sure everyone pines, or should pine, for the good old days in this case. You argue: “Those national chains are beholden above all to the relentless demands for positive quarterly returns .”

    And to what were the bloved Mom and Pop beholden? In the best cases, they loved their neighbor and behaved as merchant-servants, extending credit to the Waltons and the Ingalls whenever needed. And I am sure that happened.

    Just as often, however, local stores operated as monopolies, because that’s what they were. Granted exclusivity by geography, they had little incentive, other than charity, to offer good prices, good service and good selection. Given the opportunity to act like a company store… they acted like a company store.

    I am sure you have lots of examples of a Walmart or an Arbys ruining a beloved local institution. I have just as many examples of local people celebrating the entry of chain stores into markets because Mom and Pop aren’t Mother Theresa after all.

    Relatedly, I serve on several local boards that are constantly hitting up merchants for money for this project or that. It simply is not the case that the local mom and pops are more engaged and generous across the board. The corporate guys are quite often the better corporate citizens.

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