Sunday, December 21, 2014

Remembering Marshall Field's at Christmas Time

The famous clock at Marshall Field's State
Street store in Chicago.
       When my husband and I were dating, we lived in Chicago for a brief time. I have so many fond memories of that city, especially Christmas memories. The first time we visited downtown to look at window displays and purchase gifts we stopped at Marshall Fields to have a bite to eat. 
       Among the "firsts" by Marshall Field's was the concept of the department store tea room. In the 19th century, ladies shopping downtown returned home for lunch; having lunch at a downtown restaurant unescorted by a gentleman was not considered ladylike. But after a Marshall Field's clerk shared her lunch with a tired shopper (a chicken pot pie), Field's hit on the idea of opening a department store tea room, so that women shoppers would not feel the need to make two trips to complete their shopping. To this day, the Walnut Room serves the traditional Mrs. Herring's chicken pot pie.

The South Grill Room, Marshall Field & Co., Retail Chicago.
       That is just one among many innovations by Marshall Field's. Field's had the first European buying office, which was located in Manchester, England, and the first bridal registry. The company was the first to introduce the concept of the personal shopper, and that service was provided without charge in every Field's store, right up to the chain's last days under the Marshall Field's name. It was the first store to offer revolving credit and the first department store to use escalators. Marshall Field's book department in the State Street store was legendary; it pioneered the concept of the "book signing." Moreover, every year at Christmas, Marshall Field's downtown store windows were filled with animated displays as part of the downtown shopping district display; the "theme" window displays became famous for their ingenuity and beauty, and visiting the Marshall Field's windows at Christmas became a tradition for Chicagoans and visitors alike, as popular a local practice as visiting the Walnut Room with its equally famous Christmas tree or meeting "under the clock" on State Street.
       Marshall Field was famous for his slogan "Give the lady what she wants." He was also famous for his integrity, character, and community philanthropy and leadership. After his death, the company remained to the very end a major philanthropic contributor to its Chicago-area community.
Left, Marshall Field's Wholesale Store around 1890, Center, 1934 Marshall Field & CO. Store for men. Right, 1934 Narcissus Fountain Room at Marshall Field Co.
        Field, the store he created, and his successor John G. Shedd, helped establish Chicago's prominence throughout the world in business, art, culture, and education. The Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History (as renamed in 1905 for its first major benefactor), the Museum of Science and Industry, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, and the University of Chicago all have been aided by the philanthropy of Marshall Field's. Marshall Field was also a major sponsor of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Read more...

       "Marshall Fields and Christmas were practically synonymous. Generations of Chicagoans and out-of-towners made a pilgrimage to the legendary State Street department store to shop for gifts and enjoy Fields marvelous holiday ambiance and superb quality service. This video blends historical images and Christmas music from a bygone era with latter-day clips to recreate a whirlwind tour of the palatial building circa 1945-1955. Stroll down Candy Cane Lane, dine in the Walnut Room next to the Great Tree, and visit Santas Cozy Cloud Cottage. Fields became Macys in 2006. Macys has continued some of the holiday traditions, but the magic and soul of the old store are now just memories."

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