Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times film critic, cut up his Marshall Field's credit card when he learned Federated Department Stores Inc. will replace the 124- year-old Field's name with Macy's.
The rival Chicago Tribune newspaper said in a Sept. 21 editorial that the change was as unimaginable as renaming Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs baseball team, after Yankee Stadium in New York. "Macy's on State Street?" the paper said. "Yeesh."
The decision by Cincinnati-based Federated, which paid $11 billion for the retailer in May, to rename the chain's 61 stores has roiled Chicago residents fond of the store built by Marshall Field and known for its Walnut Room restaurant, Frango mints and holiday window displays.
"Perhaps the angst is heightened by the fact that not only is it some other name, it's from New York City," said Peter Alter, curator at the Chicago Historical Society. "Our status as the Second City to New York is, you know, kind of reinforced."
Federated Chief Executive Terry Lundgren is betting consumers will keep shopping at the historic Beaux-Arts Field's building at State and Washington streets, with its Tiffany ceiling and a century-old clock.
The Tribune, which has published dozens of complaints from longtime shoppers on its pages, said consultants who predicted Chicagoans would accept the change "must have been conducting their field study in Greenwich Village" in New York.
"I'd like to keep something that says, 'This is Chicago,' " said Carolyn Guay, 59, a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago who shops at Marshall Field's about twice a month. "All the towns are starting to look the same, and all the malls look the same."
Store founder Field helped shape Chicago as both a businessman and a philanthropist. He moved to the city from New York in the 1850s, starting as a clerk in a dry-goods store. In 1865, he took over the upscale store of Potter Palmer, known for the city's Palmer House hotel, according to Axel Madsen's "The Marshall Fields."
Field built the current store, which takes up a city block, in 1879 after an earlier one was destroyed in the fire of 1871. The building is prized as one of the city's architectural treasures. It was designed by Daniel Burnham, architect of many downtown buildings and planner of much of the city's layout.
His "grand emporium" became a favorite of the wealthy because it imported goods from Europe and specialized in catering to women, according to John Tebbel's "The Marshall Fields: A Study in Wealth." Field was the first to have a restaurant inside his store and to have restrooms for women. Among his mottos was to "give the lady what she wants."
The Field Museum of Natural History is named for Field, who was one of its biggest benefactors. He was involved in creating Grant Park along the downtown shores of Lake Michigan, and he helped support the University of Chicago, which named its football field after him in the early 1900s.
"Marshall Field's is one of those names that's been important in the city of Chicago almost since its inception," said Alter of the Chicago Historical Society. "I understand the nostalgia that folks have."
Federated may succeed in keeping customers at Marshall Field's, said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a retail consulting and investment-bank in New York. The strategy has worked in other cities, including when Federated renamed the Rich's stores in Atlanta after acquiring them in 1976, he said.
Getting rid of Marshall Field's will save Federated the cost of marketing another brand and will allow the company to centralize administrative tasks, Lundgren said in a Sept. 20 interview.
"There is no loyalty to a store -- that's what Federated has gone to school and found out," Davidowitz said in an interview. "The place with the best product at the right time and at the right price, that's where the customer loyalty is."
Josephine DeSanto, 80, who started shopping at Field's more than 60 years ago, said she will miss the name and all it stands for as a local institution.
"I will still go," DeSanto said in a recent interview outside the store as she clutched one of the distinctive Marshall Field's green shopping bags. "Old habits are hard to break."
Davidowitz said the public outcry over the name change has been harsher than he expected. The Tribune's editorial board said, "Federated may have underestimated the reaction to this decision."
Ebert, who became famous along with Gene Siskel for reviewing films on a syndicated television program with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" rating, said in a column that the name change echoes "in every corner of America that has lost a little of its soul to the heartless corporate bean counters."
Federated anticipated a negative reaction, company spokesman Jim Sluzewski said. The store will keep its hallmarks, including the holiday window displays and the plaques outside.
"It will be the same building, with the Tiffany glass, the Walnut Room and the boutiques," he said. "But we think we can bring a level of fashion and excitement to store that it needs."
Federated has a "firm intention" to bring production of Field's Frango mint chocolates back to Chicago, Sluzewski said. Frango production moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago in 1999.