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Makeover complete at Macy’s

Gay Macaulay heads out of Macy's in downtown Spokane after a sale Friday. Macy's took over the Bon Marche, which had been in Spokane since 1946. 
 (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Gay Macaulay heads out of Macy's in downtown Spokane after a sale Friday. Macy's took over the Bon Marche, which had been in Spokane since 1946. (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)

Twice a week, Betty Olson shops at the downtown Spokane store that was known for decades as the Bon Marche and now has become Macy’s.

The Davenport woman has never been to a Macy’s, but she knows of the retailer through its annual Thanksgiving Day parade and the classic Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Though she thinks “the big guy is taking over the little guy,” she’s also heard Macy’s runs a nice store.

Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy’s, is banking on that reputation to hold on to even the most skeptical customers as it transforms five department store chains into Macy’s beginning this weekend. The stores are in markets stretching from Seattle to Florida, including the former Bon Marche stores in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

Facing an increasingly competitive retail landscape, with discounters cutting into department store revenues, Federated is making the change to consolidate its operations under one of the oldest and best-known names in retail. Sure, you still may see the errant Bon Marche sign or a Bon-Macy’s bag that somehow escaped notice. But most of the signs on the stores, on the shopping bags, and on credit cards have been converted to Macy’s by now. The next advertisements customers see will say Macy’s.

In addition to the Bon, the switch applies to Rich’s and Burdine’s stores in the Southeast, Lazarus in the Midwest and Goldsmith’s in Tennessee. The 184 stores converting to Macy’s will join 248 stores that already operate under the name in 21 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The company’s Bloomingdale’s chain remains as is.

Started in Seattle in 1890

The Bon Marche, born in Seattle as a dry goods store in 1890, entered the Spokane market in 1946. The store’s name is a French phrase meaning “good buy,” and the chain eventually spread to 50 locations in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming. It became part of Federated in 1992, and the name was changed to Bon-Macy’s in the summer of 2003 as Federated linked its chains with the Macy’s name.

Macy’s began a world away in New York City. Rowland Hussey Macy opened a dry goods store in 1858 and adopted a red star as its trademark, a symbol that matched the tattoo he bore from his days as a sailor. The company boasts the world’s largest store in New York’s Herald Square, with more than 1 million square feet of retail space. In the 1920s and 1930s, Macy’s acquired department stores in Ohio, Atlanta and New Jersey. In the 1940s, the company spread west to California.

Despite their origins on opposite sides of the country, Macy’s officials want to assure loyal Bon Marche customers like Olson that the differences won’t be dramatic.

“We already do things very similar to Macy’s,” said Gayle Stanley, manager of the downtown Spokane store.

The stores in this region – in downtown Spokane, at NorthTown Mall, Spokane Valley Mall and Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d’Alene – may be updated over time, with new paint or lighting fixtures.

And the stores will retain regional flavor because apparel-buying operations for the Northwest will still have headquarters in Seattle, said Kimberly Reason, Macy’s Northwest spokeswoman. Federated recently consolidated its home division, however, with buyers in New York City selecting merchandise for all stores, Reason said.

“We centralized that merchandise division because we find the regional distinctions are not existent in the home division,” she said.

They love to shop

Federated recently conducted customer research nationwide to determine the qualities of the top 30 percent of customers. The company found that, on average, that customer is a size 11 woman who loves to shop and has an average household income of $75,000, Reason said.

To appeal more to that customer, Macy’s adopted a new slogan: Affordable Luxury. And the stores plan to emphasize upscale brands more, such as Michael Kors, Vera Wang and Jones New York, Reason said.

That’s in line with what Anne Hedge, of Colbert, knows of Macy’s. She grew up in Spokane in the 1950s, then went to college in California, where Macy’s was the primary department store. She thinks of Macy’s as being slightly more upscale than the Bon, but less so than Nordstrom.

She thinks the Bon and Macy’s carry similar merchandise, with Macy’s influence perhaps even benefiting Northwest customers.

“It may update the store a little bit,” Hedge said.

One change already under way is Macy’s new Star Rewards program. As 16 million new Macy’s credit cards are shipped to 14 million customers, the company is beginning a four-tiered program that grants benefits based on how much a customer spends. The perks include notices of exclusive promotions and mailings, in addition to free gift wrapping and delivery for the best customers.

Macy’s credit card holders will be able to use their cards at 400 stores nationwide, making buying and returning gifts and using registries easier. Management of the Northwest stores still will be based in Seattle.

Reason said Macy’s is going for an “enhanced” niche compared to Bon Marche. The Bon relied on “moderate” business while customers are looking for more upscale brands, she said.

Macy’s also will be more likely to set fashion trends and styles, rather than offering basic pieces in an array of colors, Stanley said.

“It’s a niche in the market we need to go after,” Stanley said. “There are some retailers that have picked up the middle of the road. There’s a need for retailers to look at their assortments and make them more special.”