Friday, November 16, 2007

The things that once were so big suddenly seem so small

I went to see Phantom of the Opera in Chicago a few nights ago, and I had a bunch of time to kill between dinner and curtain. My ankle, although much less swollen and not nearly as black-and-blue, is still pretty tender and painful, so I had to stay pretty much within the vicinity of the theatre. I decided to take a walk over to Marshall Fields (now Macy's) and enjoy the windows. The city is wonderful - it was cold, and I was walking slowly, so people were throwing nasty looks at me, but it was still great. Just walking the two blocks, lost in crowds of busy people trying to get home after a long day of work, did so much to cheer my spirits.

When I was a kid, we used to go see the windows around Thanksgiving time for my birthday and then again at Christmastime, and I remember having to push my way to the front through big groups of people. The last time I was there was my senior year of high school - some friends and I took the train up to see the windows, all decorated with a Harry Potter theme. Even then, at 18 years old, I remember it being a special time. It's like something hangs in the air of the city at Christmastime - as soon as those first lights are strung, the city is filled with magic.

Needless to say, I was getting pumped up on the walk over there - remembering that warm feeling of excitement that came with the first glance of the first windows was intoxicating. When I got there, though, I was surprised not to see crowds of people surrounding the store, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the holiday displays. Even though it's early in the season, there should have been a good amount of people stopping to look for at least a minute or two. Undisturbed, I strolled around the parameter, smiling at the old signs that still read "Marshall Fields," and examined the displays. They were nothing like what I remember - I actually thought they were kinda cheesy. Nothing remained of the former elegance I used to enjoy - crave - and I began to realize why I was the only one stopped in front of the building.

Not yet ready to give up, though, I went inside to visit the new FAO Schwarz, "store within a store." FAO was one of my favorite places as a kid, obviously. That place was like Mecca. Between the giant keyboard and the store-wide Mouse-Trap-ball-roller-coaster thing, a kid could get lost in there for days and not have to come up for air. When they filed bankruptcy a few years ago, I was crushed. Even as a teenager and college student, I used to love to walk around and look at all the awesome toys - and I was never ashamed to be the oldest person not accompanied by a child to play with said awesome toys.

I knew the Macy's location wouldn't be as cool, but I wasn't expecting it to suck, either. I was wrong. It was awful. It's located on a very small portion of the 5th floor, surrounded by children's and women's clothes. The only thing worth looking at was the life-size Lego Batman, but even the novelty of that wears off after a few minutes, as its $27,000 price tag makes anyone afraid to touch it, let alone get close enough to inspect the blocks. I guess they were trying to carry on the popular tradition of the giant keyboard when they displayed a dwarfed version of it - probaby 1/6 the original size and completely lame. There was one girl trying to play with it, and her tiny foot would barely fit on one key, it was so small.

There were hardly any kids there, no shouts of joy of exclamations of excitement. That's what I missed the most, I think - the looks of wonder and amazement on the kids' faces... and the expressions of nostalgia on the parents' faces. I rode the escalator back down feeling depressed, like the air was let out of my sails. I know that the things you loved as a kid are bound to change... but I wasn't expecting how old witnessing the change would make me feel.

I knew that Macy's bought Marshall's and FAO Schwarz closed its doors, and that both of them are nothing more than retail stores. But they meant something to me, and I suspect they meant something to a lot of people. It's strange and sad that those things were taken from us and nothing worthwhile was given back.


darrid said...

AMEN Becky!

Anonymous said...

Becky, that was a beautifully written account. Straight from the heart.

My daughter loved going to Marshall Field's every Christmastime. Your words remind me of her words. She is 13 years old now. We are going to see the Phantom of the Opera (just like you did) on Saturday, December 15th, along with my sister and her daughter, 14 years old, who is very close to my daughter.

The two girls will certainly reminisce about Marshall Field's visits from when they were little girls. They would love to see Marshall Field's come back.

Please, Becky, consider coming to the protest at State and Washington on Sunday, December 2nd, at 12:00 Noon, and ask some family members and friends to come with you.

Also, please check out That group is having the protest and they have an interesting blog on their site. Have a great Christmas season!
Mike M

Anonymous said...

Absolutely true. The best way I can describe it is the Marshall Field's mystique. How I wish Macy's would management and CEO Terry Lundgren would give them a chance.

Please Mr.Lundgren, bring back Marshall Field's. God Bless You and yours !

Mark Twain said...

Note to self: If you want to increase readership - talk about how much you miss Marshall Field's and hate Macy's.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing, the things you miss when you're not looking for them.

I've worked at various spots in downtown Chicago for a number of years. Being from Indiana, I always take the train in, getting off at Michigan and Randolph. From there, it's always a straight walk to work. So I see the stores, sights and sounds that take place on that 5 block walk to the office, but am always completely oblivious to what might be just a block to the west.

With the job that I'm at now, I still get off at the same spot, but the route to the office is one that I'd never travelled before. Imagine my surprise to see the old Field's building, the place where they're apparently going to show Wicked until the Earth dies, ABC Channel 7 studios, etc etc. Chicago can be a pretty cool place once in a while.