Keeping Fenway, Losing Filene's

Boston shoppers react to the loss of a famous Boston brand that has drawn shoppers downtown for generations. Federated Department Stores, which also operates Macy's, has announced that when it acquires Filene's, it will cease to use the brand's name and will close stores in Boston and other cities.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Some famous names in the retail world are disappearing--among them Foley's, Kaufmann's, Hecht's, Robinsons-May and Filene's. Those regional chains are being converted to Macy's. It's part of Federated Department Stores $17-billion acquisition of May Department Stores. As Martha Bebinger reports from member station WBUR, many Boston shoppers are sad to see Filene's go.

(Soundbite of bells)

MARTHA BEBINGER reporting:

Bells accompany shoppers and workers on their lunch break at an intersection in downtown Boston, where Filene's and Macy's have faced off for years. Lisa Pochey(ph) juggled shopping bags outside Filene's.

Ms. LISA POCHEY (Shopper): My grandmother used to shop here many years ago. My aunt used to come to Filene's, I come to Filene's, my mother. It's really just too bad. I'm really sad about it. It's really sort of a monument I say. In Italy, that's what they would call it, a historical monument.

BEBINGER: Filene's started in Boston as a women's clothing store in 1890. The store's founder, William Filene, immigrated from Prussia. The company expanded across New England. Filene's in Boston became a legend in part for Filene's Basement, where bargain-priced designer clothes occasionally sparked fights. The Basement has since become an independent chain not affected by this merger. But Filene's reputation remains, says shopper Willie Jones(ph) of Boston.

Mr. WILLIE JONES (Shopper): I'm originally from Virginia. And, like, Filene's was one of the first landmark places that I actually visited. And the thing about it is you can talk to people from all over the United States; it's known nationwide.

BEBINGER: But the reputation is apparently not broad enough to expand nationwide. Federated plans to convert 10 regional chains, including Filene's, Foley's, Hecht's and Kaufmann's to Macy's. Spokesman Jim Sluzewski says the intent of the merger is to give Macy's a stronger national presence.

Mr. JIM SLUZEWSKI (Spokesman): To build the national brand, to be able to have the presence of a national brand, national advertising and marketing, etc., it's important that stores across the country be operated under the same nameplate.

BEBINGER: Analysts say the merger is a response to pressures department stores are facing from Wal-Mart and other big-box discount retailers. Boston Mayor Tom Menino is trying to lure one of those big-box chains to what is expected to be a vacant, full-block, multistory building at the intersection that now includes Filene's and Macy's.

Mayor TOM MENINO (Boston): There are a lot of retailers who are interested because, you know, more people go through Downtown Crossing in a day than at any of the other malls we have in the city of Boston.

BEBINGER: As word that Filene's will be no more spreads, so does the gloom. Polly Higgins(ph) is a flight attendant stopping by Filene's during her 24-hour layover in Boston.

Ms. POLLY HIGGINS (Flight Attendant): I just heard yesterday. And we said we had to put some of our flight attendants on suicide watch because when they find out, they're going to just be so upset.

BEBINGER: Higgins remembers her favorite bargain, a black-sequined, halter top cocktail dress.

Ms. HIGGINS: I just happen to have a picture of it right here.

BEBINGER: Oh, the little black dress.

Ms. HIGGINS: Thirty-four dollars. Can't beat it. We love this place. Every time we're here, we come down and spend money. It's fun. My husband'll be happy.

BEBINGER: Federated and May expect to complete the merger after state and federal regulators finish their review sometime this fall. For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

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