Macy’s to St. Paul: Suck It!

Jan 03

Macy’s “Holiday Store Hours.” The sign on the doors of the St Paul Macy’s says the holiday hours end at 6 p.m. Saturday. The store will close in March. Happy effing St Patrick’s Day!

A few years ago, I popped into the Macy’s Department Store in downtown St. Paul looking for winter jackets for my three growing school boys, aged 7, 5 and 3. I couldn’t find any warm jackets in the children’s department, so I went looking for the Warm Coat Department I figured must be located somewhere else. I returned to the “children’s” area, puzzled, after a search of the store failed to turn up any jackets at all for anyone under adult size. “Say, where can you find a kid’s jacket in this store,” I finally asked a sales clerk — a rarity in the St. Paul Macy’s — who happened past.

The clerk was a friendly middle-aged lady who had worked for Macy’s and, before that, for Dayton’s when the store was still owned by a Minnesota company. “Oh, you can find children’s jackets at our Rosedale store,” she said, referring to a suburban mall. “Or you can go to our downtown Minneapolis store.” But I don’t want to drive 10 miles to find a jacket that should be in the “department store” near my office, I said. The woman looked a bit flustered, then swiveled her head to look around us and make sure no one else was within earshot.

“We’re not supposed to tell people this, but we don’t carry a lot of items like that because they want you to go to Rosedale or Minneapolis,” she said. “It’s terrible, I know: They don’t want people like you shopping down here.”

We ended up buying jackets for the boys online, from Land’s End: Cheaper, faster, no drive to Rosedale required. But I knew then that Macy’s was already pulling out of St. Paul: In effect, Macy’s was telling St. Paul to suck it. Today, it is official: The store will close in March.

I will never set foot in a Macy’s store again — anywhere.

Once upon a time in St Paul

If you know anyone in St Paul, chances are you have heard this kind of story many times: People going into a once-thriving department store looking for something only to be told You Can’t Buy That Here.
St. Paul people are not stupid: They stopped going to the Un-Department Store, which stopped serving them years ago. Really, trying to buy anything in Macy’s was maddening. Even if you COULD find what you were looking for, it was harder to find a sales clerk to ring it up for you than to find a parking spot outside.

I made my last (as it turns out) foray into Macy’s a few days before Christmas, to buy a few last-minute gifts. I got some slippers with dogs on them — the perfect gag gift — only to spend the next 20 minutes trying to buy them. I believe there were only two — TWO! — sales clerks on an entire floor right before Christmas. You not only had to believe in Santa, you had to be deluded about your chances of getting customer service if you visited Macy’s before Christmas.

I walked around the shrinking department store, missing its top (furniture, etc.) and basement (men’s clothing) floors since a 2002 “remodel” that really was more of a self-destruction and found that the inventory had shriveled even further since my last visit in the Fall. I could have bought a $60 box of chocolates, if I was made of money and if I could’ve attracted a sales clerk to the candy counter (I waited, in vain, for 10 minutes), but precious few of the many other items I was used to buying since I got my first Dayton’s credit card in 1970 were in sight.

I have been in friendlier — and busier — casket showrooms in a funeral home.

My grandmothers both worked in downtown St Paul department stores — my Irish-born one selling scarves, my Wisconsin-born one demonstrating toys. My mother even did some modeling for The Golden Rule. But none of them would recognize the dead storefronts. Where people once shopped and went to restaurants and watched movies, there now is a desert, populated mostly by government bureaucracies, corporate banks and dental offices who seem to have poached the once-pricey real estate in the downtown core. Next to the soon-to-be empty Macy’s stands the upscale blight of “Wells Fargo Place,” the former World Trade Center that ruined St Paul’s former main drag, Seventh Street, by cutting off the flow in the hopes of producing a boom. Instead, it was a bust. For a brief time, there were actual retail stores, restaurants and an impressive high-shooting water spout that brought crowds to the place. Now, it’s got bureaucrats, banks and empty storefronts. There is one restaurant, a Subway sandwich shop, that stays alive only because it is on a Skyway entrance to the empty caverns. Now, next door, Macy’s is going dark. Where once was the retail heart of the city — and where it was supposed to be again — there is… nothing. I hate that.

But don’t worry: Just eight blocks away, near the dead-end streets of Lowertown, there soon will be a hobby baseball stadium for a hobby baseball team that plays 50 home games a season against such worthy opponents as the Gary (Indiana) South Shore Railcats. This ballpark was St. Paul’s consolation prize for the $1 billion NFL stadium that Minneapolis is getting. And by consolation prize, I mean like the bag of frozen shrimp and the carton of diet fudge chocolate soda that I received as a consolation prize when I was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune and a frumpy choir director from Long Island walked off with thousands of dollars and a Caribbean vacation.

Something about downtown St Paul, despite all the happy Hoo-Ha about its increasing “coolness” factor, remains out of kilter, especially this winter of No NHL Wild hockey games. Dayton’s-slash-Macy’s, by their long-standing neglect of the St Paul store and their open disrespect/contempt for the city have not helped. They have hurt the city that tried so hard — too hard — to keep them going.

By this point, most St Paulites no longer give a damn about a department store that cared so little for them. Hey, Macy’s, you’re going away? Oh, too bad.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.