Oval Room Letdown

Macy’s continues to chip away at retail traditions.

Oval Room Letdown
Photo courtesy of The Minnesota Historical Society

Macy’s recently eliminated its Minneapolis-based Oval Room buyer. I know what you’re thinking: Macy’s still had a Minneapolis-based Oval Room buyer?

As recently as last spring, I talked to that veteran buyer—one of the last people working in the offices above the downtown Minneapolis store—at an Oval Room fashion show. At the time, I thought, maybe we’ve been too hard on Macy’s. We complain that Macy’s dumbed down our store, stripped away designer brands, and left it messy. But seated along the runway, I saw models in cutting-edge fashions from Armani, Lanvin, and Marc Jacobs. Macy’s may have buried the glamour, but it still had it. And with Neiman Marcus about to leave downtown, now would seem to be the time to pump it up.

So I made plans to profile the local Oval Room buyer. When she didn’t return my call, I did some investigating and learned Macy’s “had a change in alignment of responsibilities.” The New York office now directs designer collections. Just six Macy’s stores nationwide out of 800, including Minneapolis and Chicago, carry designer fashion. It’s not because we’re top luxury buyers—the Bloomingdale’s exit, and now Neiman’s, suggests the contrary. Macy’s is doing its best to honor tradition, says Cindy Eliason, a district vice president for Macy’s. They call the effort “My Macy’s.”

“Decisions are made store by store,” Eliason says, “based on whom the customer is that is shopping in that store.”

I can tell you who she’s not. The downtown Minneapolis customer is not the woman I’ve seen dressed to the nines at Nordstrom’s designer previews. Nor is she my mom, who relished her time working in special events at Dayton’s. For many years after, she gladly paid to park downtown any time she wanted to buy something special.

It’s no longer her first stop. And Macy’s isn’t doing much to lure her back. The Oval Room was sparsely merchandised last time I visited and padded with brands that aren’t truly designer, such as DKNY. Macy’s moderate house brands are creeping closer to the hallowed oval.

“The downtown worker is the primary customer for us,” Eliason says. That shopper’s short lunch hour is the reason Macy’s has consolidated departments—to make the store “more practical” to shop. (Good spin, isn’t it?) Meanwhile, the vacated Louis Vuitton shop remains boarded up on the first floor.

It doesn’t matter that you can still buy a smattering of Missoni at Macy’s. Customers miss the luster of their downtown store—feeling like we should dress up to shop there. That’s an attitude, not a brand.

I believe that Macy’s respects our traditions—if it didn’t, the flower show and Glamorama would have died long ago. But it takes more than a name to uphold a tradition. The Oval Room of My Macy’s has no soul. It is not the Oval Room of our Dayton’s.