Every time we get a glimpse of the dramatic top-to-bottom renovation at Macy's Herald Square we are more and more impressed. Earlier this month, the store unveiled more of it's revived main floor Men's (pictured at right) and Cosmetic (top left) departments banishing what was once a dreary interior for a pristine white on white decor and dramatic Hollywood style lighting. When the whole store is finally finished New Yorkers who have sworn of setting foot inside the store could conceivably be lured back as customers —that is if they can stand the throngs of tourists who are the impetus behind the extensive renovations in the first place. In recent press articles about the store's new look, Macy's executives have made it clear that the gigantic Herald Square flagship is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, and as such has a responsibility to represent the Macy's brand at its best and brightest. Those tourists, particularly the free-spending international ones are why the new main floor is home to a hugely expanded leased Louis Vuitton boutique as well as brand new leased shops from Gucci, Longchamps and Burberry that are somewhat richer than typical Macy's fare. New, more expensive brands have also seeped into the refreshed cosmetic and fragrance areas, and as the store continues to be redone, customers can expect to see merchandise that pushes the upper price limit of what one expects to find at Macy's.
That's all great for the historic Herald Square flagship. It should be taking advantage of every opportunity that its status creates, but what about the other 797 Macy's stores all over America that tourists don't get to? Are they getting a facelift too? Will they share in any of the splendor that is being lavished on the Macy's Mothership?
Our guess is: Probably not.
Since today's Macy's has been cobbled together from bits and pieces of around 70 different department store chains, it comprises a lot of stores that started out as something else. In many cases, as a result of mergers and acquisitions, were swiftly converted into Macy's stores with little more than a change of signage. To compare the lavish renovations on 34th street with another, humbler Macy's, The Shophound took a quick subway ride to downtown Brooklyn and visited the branch at 422 Fulton Street (top, right). It has been a Macy's since 1993, when the local Abraham & Straus chain was absorbed into the chain. The building is historic itself as the flagship for A&S as it was known, and with six full selling floors is actually the second largest Macy's store in the New York area behind Herald Square. It's one of the biggest in the chain. Is Macy's tending to this flagship-sized branch store as well? Not so much.
Walking through the main floor, we could see that the major part of the building, built in 1929, had the bones of grand and elegant emporium, much of which has been trampled over the years, and though major remnants remain, Macy's is not doing much to make the best of them. You can see a beautifully designed Jazz Age carved marble and brass entryway from inside the Fulton Street entrance (above left), though, sadly, someone has slapped unsightly wiring over it. The bank of 10 elevators at the center of the store (at right) was famous for its dazzling Deco design, and even though one side is no longer functional and covered with selling cases, it is still impressive. Dreary elements abound, however, from the truly drab color scheme on the floor to the horrible lighting throughout the store, particularly when compared with dramatic lighting being implemented on 34th street. Every floor in Brooklyn is lit with fluorescent tubes from overhead, some in better fixtures than others. We saw broken and peeling linoleum flooring on several floors as well as carpeting that was stained and shabby in other areas. On the escalators that descend onto the main floor accessory and cosmetics area (at left), an old A&S logo is still visible on some of the glass railing panels, proving that little has been done to update the store in at least 20 years, if not longer. We don't think that management isn't noticing some of these things. We are just guessing that they aren't getting the resources to implement repairs and updates.
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Like the vanishing version of the store on 34th, this location seems to have been arranged without much of a grand plan. Much of the main floor is devoted to the men's department which sprawls confusingly from section to section including in-store shops for Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply and Nautica popping up randomly with little to do with each other or their placement. A mezzanine has been inserted in what was once a high ceiling space to create more men's selling areas on the Livingston Street side of the floor, but it obscures much of the original Art Deco detailing that gives the store any of its character. It is tidy and well kept at midday on a hot Summer Tuesday, but conceptually it's a mess, and this applies to much of the apparel sections on the floors above —thrown together by various merchandising initiatives over the years without much sense of components creating a whole store. Some parts appear more recently redone, like the I.N.C. contemporary sportswear department on which the chain has placed increasing importance. Fitting areas on several floors seem to have been thoughtfully re-configured. The Home section on 5 is also well-ordered if a bit generic, and the furniture department in the basement is abundant though the adjacent mattress department has all the charm of, well, a basement.
We can't fault the store management for being sloppy. Unlike what we have seen in past experiences at Herald Square, merchandise here is well kept, and the store, though dingy in many areas is still clean and tidy. It is well-stocked on all floors telling us that that business is being done here, as it should since Macy's anchors a resurgent Fulton Mall right a cross from a brand new H&M and a Uniqlo coming soon*. it is also not far from the continually gentrifying Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens neighborhoods, and those people need to buy their sheets somewhere. It's the Macy's executives in charge of store design who have fallen down on the job here, content to let the store chug along without thinking much about the experience of actually shopping in its neglected environment. Of course, renovating Herald Square is a huge, multi-billion dollar project that will take much of the company's resources, and it's worthwhile given the store's fame and draw as a tourist attraction, but in a 798-store chain, the impact of one glamorous flagship will easily get dampened if it no longer bears any resemblance to the rest of the locations. Hopefully, once they finish with 34th Street, Macy's execs will realize that the rest of the chain needs some TLC as well.
The upcoming UNIQLO store will actually be a few subway stops away at Atlantic Terminal, not at the Fulton Mall.