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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Macy’s to close department store in downtown Spokane

The historic Macy’s store in Spokane, the largest retailer in downtown, will close in March.

The move is one of 40 company store closures across the country, the company announced Wednesday afternoon.

The decision will leave downtown Spokane with just one department store, Nordstrom in River Park Square. The downtown Macy’s store, which was home to The Bon Marche department store for more than 50 years, has 94 employees.

Nearby businesses expressed significant concern about the loss of a major downtown tenant.

“I definitely think it will be a blow to downtown,” said Chris O’Harra, who owns Auntie’s Bookstore, two blocks from Macy’s. “These anchors are just so important to us.”

Cincinnati-based Macy’s announced plans in September to close 35 to 40 underperforming stores. Most of those stores were named Wednesday.

Andy Dinnison, who owns Boo Radley’s and Atticus across the street from Macy’s on Howard Street, said he’s worried about Macy’s employees, many of whom are daily customers to Atticus’ coffee shop.

“You have to take it on a human level first,” he said.

He said he’s heard rumors off and on that the department store might close almost since the time he opened Boo Radley’s in 1997.

“It’s not completely out of the blue,” he said.

But he added that Macy’s departure puts an end to more than a century of traditional department stores in downtown. While Nordstrom remains, it is focused on clothing, while Macy’s includes extensive housewares, linen and furniture departments.

Curt Kinghorn, who owns Runners Soul on Wall Street, said Macy’s has been an excellent neighbor. He worries that the store’s closure will reverse improvements to downtown, especially east of the store on Main Avenue.

“It’s going to counterbalance everything that has gone on downtown because it’s going to put a big black hole there,” Kinghorn said.

The announcement was made as the area around the store undergoes extensive renovation, including the construction of a new Urban Outfitters. But there has been bad news, as well, including the closure last year of the Olive Garden restaurant in the Old City Hall building.

Officials at the downtown Macy’s said no local employees are allowed to comment on the news. The store occupies 374,000 square feet of space.

Jim Sluzewski, a Macy’s corporate spokesman, said in an email that the downtown Spokane store will be sold. The popular clearance center located on an upper floor of the building will appear in a different form – called Last Act – in all Macy’s stores in the future, he said.

River Park Square interested

Bryn West, general manager of River Park Square, said she foresees a bright future for the building. The mall is attached to Macy’s by a second-floor skywalk.

“We are definitely sad to see them go,” West said. “They have been an iconic retail neighbor and partner for years.”

But she said if the building is sold, River Park Square would have “some interest” in redeveloping it into a project that would include residential and commercial space.

“That building has great bones,” West said.

River Park Square is owned by the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

West said the structure offers “fantastic views” of Riverfront Park from the north side of the building.

The Cowles Co. previously remodeled the former downtown J.C. Penney into residential condos and retail space.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said with Urban Outfitters moving next door and the recent renovation of the adjacent Bennett Block, Macy’s decision is short-sighted.

“It’s unfortunate that they’re making a larger, corporate-based decision without looking at the individual location,” Stuckart said.

West agreed that there’s strong momentum downtown.

“It was an interesting choice,” West said. “But it would take quite an investment to bring that structure up to where their other stores are, so I can understand their decision.”

Also announced Wednesday is the closure of the Macy’s store in Moscow, Idaho. That store has 47 employees.

Macy’s will keep its stores at NorthTown Mall and Spokane Valley Mall and in Coeur d’Alene. The chain also has stores in Walla Walla, Kennewick and East Wenatchee. Including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury locations, Macy’s Inc. has about 900 stores in 45 states.

Bon Marche opened in 1947

The 11-story building in downtown Spokane, with its towering, Christmastime Madonna light display, is valued for tax purposes at $6.8 million. The Bon Marche opened its doors in 1947 on the site of the Culbertson department store.

In 1952, The Bon Marche merged with The Palace department store and became known as The Bon Marche-Palace for several years. The store was expanded and remodeled in 1955; the completion of that project also brought the debut of the 60-foot-tall Madonna light.

West said if River Park Square redevelops Macy’s, it would “absolutely” preserve the Madonna artwork and keep it on display during the Christmas season.

In 2003, Federated Department Stores, the parent company of both The Bon and Macy’s, changed the name of the chain to The Bon-Macy’s. It became just Macy’s in 2005. The Bon Marche logo remains prominently displayed at the main entrance and many still refer to it as “The Bon.”

Part of the land under the building is owned by the Spokane Odd Fellows Temple Association, which bought the property as an investment decades ago, said Carol Hare, secretary of the organization. The association was not informed about the Macy’s closure before the announcement.

“This is a complete surprise,” Hare said. “Our concern will be what will they do with the building, and what will they do with the land.”

The Odd Fellows association owns the land under the southwest corner of the Macy’s site.

Hare said the Odd Fellows have a long-term lease with Macy’s, which owns the building. The agreement is renegotiated every 10 years.

Tough time for Macy’s

Macy’s and other major department stores stumbled in 2015. Investors dumped Macy’s stock, driving the share price down more than 46 percent. The company also announced Wednesday that sales in stores owned by the chain and opened at least a year fell 5.2 percent in November and December.

The company has been closing some of its historic downtown department stores for years, including in the cities of Boise and Missoula.

In other locations, such as Seattle, Macy’s has sold off the upper floors of its historic downtown properties for redevelopment, with the retail store taking just a few floors on lower levels. The downtown store in Walla Walla still is open and was not listed for closure.

Staff editors Addy Hatch and John Stucke contributed to this report.