Happy Birthday, Macy’s

Retailer celebrates 150 years.
Posted December 8, 2008

As Macy’s celebrated its 150th anniversary this fall, it was difficult to imagine an American life untouched by the last remaining iconic department store brand.

Families sitting around the television on Thanksgiving morning watching the parade. Or, at Christmas, watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” with Edmund Gwenn as the Macy’s Santa Claus who really is and Natalie Wood as the little girl who wants to believe. (Twenty years later, a grown Wood played a Macy’s salesgirl in “Love With the Proper Stranger.”)

Rosalind Russell, as “Aunty Mame,” worked at Macy’s, and so did Montgomery Clift in “The Young Lions.” In the 1941 big band song “Tangerine,” Johnny Mercer included the lyrics, “where the label says ‘from Macy’s mezzanine.’ ” The department store showed up in “I Love Lucy,” in a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis movie and on “Seinfeld.”

But you don’t need scenes from a movie or lines from a song to measure Macy’s impact. That can be measured in the way Macy’s and its contemporary department store brands served America’s shopping needs in the decades before specialty retailers, category killers, mass-merchandise discounters and Internet sites.

Most of those other department store brands are gone, into bankruptcy or consolidation. That Macy’s has survived into the fourth half-century of operations is a testament to the strength of its executives, its faith in the department store concept and the power of its name.

Photos courtesy of Macy’s Inc., Cincinnati