Marshall Field's chain may be sold; Downtown flagship's future uncertain

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The fate of one of Downtown's icons -- the former Dayton's store that is now Marshall Field's -- is uncertain after Target Corp.'s March 10 announcement that it was looking for buyers for its department store divisions.

Target Corp. officials did not speak to the Downtown store's specific future in a March 10 statement announcing the possible sale. Carolyn Brookter, a Target Corp. spokesperson, would not comment on specific plans for the Nicollet Mall store.

The company did not name potential bidders, but industry experts immediately started speculating.

David Brennan, a University of St. Thomas marketing professor who worked at Target Corp., mentioned Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores, Inc. as the most "likely suitor" for Marshall Field's.

The department store chain -- the nation's largest -- operates more than 1,000 stores across the country.

The Downtown department store employs about 1,000 highly paid analysts and buyers, Brennan noted. Even if an out-of-town buyer buys the store, they would probably move or eliminate those jobs. The resulting loss of local workers could be a blow to other Downtown retailers and restaurants.

"It wouldn't be devastating, but it would be a hit," Brennan said.

Would a buyer keep what Minneapolis Downtown Council President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Grabarski calls a "flagship" department store?

Said Grabarski, "We are optimistic that any potential new owners of Marshall Field's will understand how the Nicollet Mall store is an anchor to the retail community of Downtown."

Grabarski cited the store's events: "The ambiance of Downtown is made special due to the single store promotions located there, such as the spring flower show, the fashion spectaculars or the holiday season auditorium shows."

The happenings in Marshall Field's eighth-floor auditorium, such as the 41st Annual Spring Flower Show planned for March 27 to April 10, have been popular draws for Downtown visitors for years. The holiday displays started in the 1960s and draw about 500,000 visitors each year, according to a history of the store posted on Marshall Field's Web site.

The landmark 700 Nicollet Mall store opened in 1902 as a dry goods business founded by George Draper Dayton. It grew to include Mervyn's (also put up for sale March 10) and the mammoth Target discount chain, which would become the company's sole focus.

Targets, marketed as hip alternatives to other low-price retail stores, have grown more dominant and outpaced the higher-priced department stores in sales. The 900 Nicollet Mall store was not affected by the announcement.

Target Corp. is Downtown's largest private employer. It has 1,249 stores in 47 states and employs about 245,000 people. The corporation operates 62 Marshall Field's stores in eight Upper Midwest states that employ 25,000 people.

A sale still might not happen. In announcing that it would seek buyers for Marshall Field's and Mervyn's, Target said "because the company is still in the early stages of this process, it is not yet certain that any transactions will occur."