Monday, August 21, 2006

The End of (Another) Era

It came in the mail last week: unbidden, but not entirely unexpected. It is a tasteful grey credit card, adorned with a small red star, and it allows me to buy merchandise on tick, as we used to say in England, at Macy’s. It is the result of a corporate buy-out. Macy’s has purchased Marshall Field’s which a decade or so ago purchased Hudson’s. (There was a Dayton-Hudson’s in there somewhere, but I don’t think the credit card was renamed.)

There are many divides in Detroit, mostly geographic. The most famous is of course 8 Mile Road. Slim Shady made sure that this chasm achieved worldwide fame. For the inhabitants of the Detroit metropolitan area, a more important barrier is Woodward Avenue. It separates the “East side” from the “West side.” Drivers who can navigate fearlessly and maplessly east of Woodward have been known to refuse to cross this invisible barrier for fear of getting lost. And vice versa.

There is one temporal divide in Detroit. Those on the far side are the ones who remember the J.L. Hudson Company in its glory days. When we moved to Detroit in 1966, Hudson’s was still a major force downtown. Its structure took up a whole city block. I think there were 13 floors, and one of my first memories is walking into the customer lounge on the top floor where there was a huge bank of phones. I pulled a scrap of paper out of my pocket and phoned the practice of Drs. Clifford, Rogers and Jevons. We were going to be parents!

But I never knew the store at its apogee. If you ask a longtime inhabitant of Detroit about the old days, her face will light up and she will talk of getting dressed up in white socks and patent leather shoes and going on the trolley to Hudson’s for shopping and tea with her mother or grandmother. It was the stuff of legend. That building is no more and we trot out to the mall in our jeans. Now there is a new player on the Detroit retail scene. Welcome!

I just noticed. They call themselves Macy*s, not Macy’s. Has this stellar punctuation always been their logo, or is it fear of getting entangled with the greengrocer’s apostrophe?

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