Picture it. Black skies ripped by lightening….enormous gates heaving closed…. two huddled figures cowering beneath the Angel’s sword. Adam turns to Eve: “I think we’re living in an age of transition.”
To be clear, we’ve been living in an age of transition ever since. Change is the law and cost of life. Often with enormous consequences like the discovery of the New World or the power of the Atom. However, just as often with something so modest as the closing of a store.
To any vetted Chicagoan, this recalls the fateful day in 2006 when our very own Marshall Fields was not only closed, its drained cadaver was unceremoniously handed over to the enemy. But wait! There have been other retail deaths: The Fair, Goldblatts, Madigans, The Boston Store, Montgomery Wards, Wieboldts, Woolworth, the litany is long and ugly.
Before the eulogy sounds hyperbolic, remember these births and deaths run deep. Millennial’s, with your bright eyes and shallow memories, need to know what these retailers did for your parents, your grandparents, and your city. Much like we all need to know what our predecessors did to make Chicago’s Lakefront and Museums among the most celebrated in America.
This is more than nostalgia. Your 20th C State Street was once the enormous retail magnet that drew your family to a staggering profusion of suits and dresses, hats and shoes, tools and toys; wonders from the corners of the globe plus whirlpools of holiday displays, parades, fashion shows, beauty salons, food emporiums, themed restaurants, and above all else a safe world in which to meet and greet friends.
Remnants of this long ago heritage persist, but State Street will never be that Great Street again. Retailing has moved on, and you horizon-minded Millennial’s with it. Although Cyberspace means virtual realities often better than the actual, how does even the finest printout commandeer the true size and sense of the product, not to mention the palpable smile and service of the people?
Change happens. And yet each transition, little or large, squeezes just a bit more out of the immense past from which you were heaved up. You can’t miss what you never knew…but possibly you can marvel at how it has made you who you are today.
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