Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Traditions

I was just in Chicago and seeing Macy’s which used to be Marshall Fields reminded me of how Christmas shopping used to be. In those days the only stores that had shopping carts were grocery stores and everybody shopped at the department stores that lined State Street. Each store had it’s own personality, but Marshall Fields was in a class by itself.

There was always a crowd waiting to see the Christmas windows. Along with Santa Clause, they had their own special characters, Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly. All the stores had special boxes and shopping bags for the holidays, but Fields were always the nicest.

When I was in college, I sold toys at Christmas at Marshall Fields. Once you got hired, you went through a day of training. They made a big deal out the fact that you were working for such a classy store. We had to wear dark colors and nothing sleeveless, and of course, no pants. The only credit cards were the store’s own and everything was written up by hand.

The toy department was amazing. It took up half of the fifth floor. If you figure that the store is a square block, you get just how big that was. I worked at the counter that sold microscopes and chemistry sets. Once the store opened, the aisles would get so crowded you couldn’t see the counter across from you.

Carolers went through the store singing Christmas songs and it was very festive.

All the restaurants were on the seventh floor. The Walnut Room was the main one and at Christmas they put up a two story tree. The decorations were always new and the big excitement was to see what the designers chose. They had special food. The only thing I remember for sure was a snowman made out of ice cream.

I’m not the only one sad to see Macy’s swallow up Marshall Fields. When it first happened, there were picketers carrying signs and marching outside the store, but Macy’s didn’t seem to care. The Marshall Fields clocks still stand on the corners and they left the plaquesthat say Marshall Fields on the building.

And they left the Walnut Room stay the Walnut Room and at Christmas they still have the giant tree. Chicago people love their traditions and every year make their trip downtown to have lunch under the Christmas tree. On the weekends, there’s a three hour wait. For the past two years, my dear friend Penny and I have started meeting for lunch under the tree. I have known her since I was two, so we have lots of memories to talk over.

It’s fun to watch the families come in and old friends like me and Penny. I just wish they still had those ice cream snowmen.

Macy’s apparently understands Chicagoans obsession with Fields, so this year the windows pay tribute to holidays at Marshall Fields. You’ve probably figured the picture on the top is the tree in the Walnut Room. And the picture on the bottom is one of the holiday windows with Uncle Mistletoe in his red coat. Poor Aunt Holly seems to have been forgotten.

The fifth floor still has toys, but now it is just a tiny department run by Toys R Us. Not the magic I remember.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Aah, the nostalgia, Betty. I worked a couple of Christmas holidays as a teen at Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh... which also ultimately wound up being swallowed by Macy's, I think. At least the old Kaufmann's clock where people used to meet still hangs outside the main department store building.

Snookie said...

Looking forward to seeing my son for Christmas. He's been away at school for 6 months. Not sure I'd ever want to work retail duing Christmas. The sales people always look so harried... and I see customers treating them rather rudely.

Betty Hechtman said...

Linda, it's too bad how Macy's has homgenized the shopping experience. It used to be each department store had their own character. Now it's the same stuff wherever you go.

Betty Hechtman said...

Snookie, working the holidays now probably isn't as nice. I bet you can't wait to see your son.

Planner said...

Thank you for sharing those great memories, Betty! It's too bad it's not still the store of your youth.

Did you enjoy that job in the toy department? Did you feel like part of the magic, or did the experience unveil behind-the-scenes activities (as in demanding customers) you would have preferred not to know about.

Sometimes it's hard to remember our world before it was computerized.

Betty Hechtman said...

Planner, I loved working in the toy department. I did it for several years.