Montgomery Ward to Shut Down Stores.
December 28, 2000 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Montgomery Ward to Shut Down Stores. It's sad to lose another retailer that you can count on for quality merchandise. It seems that the day on the department store is almost over.
posted by Sal Amander (29 comments total)
I have no sympathy for Wards. I tried to buy a couch, but only after completing a mountain of paperwork was I told the couch was on backorder. (During the sales pitch I was told I could have it the next week.) Of course after a month's wait there were further delays, so I canceled the order. I heard a similar story from a friend who tried to buy a TV.
posted by fleener at 12:24 PM on December 28, 2000

Wow. I'm sitting here in shock... Montgomery Ward (the man) was integrated with Chicago's history. He was one of the mail-order pioneers along with Sears, and the warehouse on the Chicago River is a testament to this accomplishment.

That said, I've seen Wards undergo transformations even in my own lifetime. They started as a mid-level department store, and then broke into a bevy of mini-shops under one roof and name. From there, things just went downhill. Today's Wards feels a lot like Target minus the mass market items, and that's not a good thing.

It'll still be sad to see an established name go. Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Montgomery Ward, Johnson Outboard Motors... a few I can think of.
posted by hijinx at 12:26 PM on December 28, 2000

I think there's a lot to be sad about in the world, but is the closing of brand name companies really one of them?
posted by Doug at 12:31 PM on December 28, 2000

You can't shop smarter than Wards... according to their TV ads. I guess people were smart enough not to shop at Wards. When was the last time you shopped at Wards?

I worked for Wards at their Chicago headquarters in 92- 93 and was laid off along with other co-workers. This company has been in trouble for some time.

posted by andre_111 at 1:07 PM on December 28, 2000


And I had this headline about how "Apparently, you can shop smarter than Wards" *all ready* to go.
posted by baylink at 1:32 PM on December 28, 2000

It seems the days of the local chains are numbered. I never lived near a Wards and never shopped there. But I was struck when I was home over Christmas by the loss of similar local department stores. First Caldor, and now Bradlees. Neither were anything special, a lot like Target. But they were New England stores, and I have memories of them. But now it's Wal-Mart and Target, just like every place else. It makes me sad.
posted by megnut at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2000

Wow. I'm sitting here in shock... Montgomery Ward (the man) was integrated with Chicago's history.

I remember the store being on the west side of State Street in the Sixties and Seventies. Across the street and a little south was Sears. Wards closed up during the Eighties, I think. In any case, both are long gone -- Woolworths too. The only one that's still there is Walgreens on Michigan and Chicago and (for the North-siders) on Broadway and Diversey. Marshall Fields looks like it's falling apart -- at least the one across the street from Old Navy. I think Carson, Pirie, Scott has already given up the ghost.
posted by leo at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2000

Two points:

1.) Department stores are something of a dinosaur in today's retail market. They've been forced out of many markets; you can no longer purchase furniture, electronics, or toys at most department stores. They've been hit hard by specialty retailers (aka "category killers") focused on specific areas. At the same time, department stores are facing increasing competition from the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world. These are not exactly the best times for department stores.

2.) Local chains have trouble competing with national chains because they don't have the same economies of scale. We've seen it with drugstores, with home electronics stores, and with hardware stores, and the trend is likely to continue.
posted by Aaaugh! at 2:35 PM on December 28, 2000

We've also seen it with restaurants. During my lifetime, restaurants have predominately changed from one-of locals to members of franchise chains.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:25 PM on December 28, 2000

What Aaaugh! said. Wards, Sears, Penneys -- all the downmarket department stores are squeezed between the low-price discounters on the one hand and the category killers on the other. It's been a brutal decade for those once-dominant retailers. The whole landscape has changed.
posted by dhartung at 3:25 PM on December 28, 2000

Aw, shit. Bradlee's closed down?

What about Building 19?
posted by baylink at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2000

dhartung, I think you missed two key culprits in the slaying of Wards, Sears, Pennys, etc, which I think might have been even more powerful, in the aggregate if not the individual, than the category killers or the Target / Walmart explosion:

* the proliferation of overstock / clearance chains (Daffy's, Ross, Filene's Basement, TJ Maxx, etc.) and big-name outlets which could offer the significantly better merchandise for someone willing to search a bit at the same price, with a shopping experience no worse than one found at the typical Ward's or Penny's or Sears

* a very aggressive pricing, discounting and merchandising strategy whereby the upper-middle chains (Macy's, Kohls, Dayton's, Marshall Fields, Lord & Taylor, and the like) and even the top-line chains (Bloomingdales, Saks, Neiman Markus, Nordstrom) which used to be too expensive across the board for middle class people even to bother with, become a frequent place where great bargains could be found.

posted by MattD at 4:59 PM on December 28, 2000

Kohls is upper-middle on par with Macy's? Hmm. Not here. Here Kohl's is a step below Kaufmann's (Robinson's May for the left coasters, Famous Barr in the midwest, etc.) which is a step below Lord & Taylor. Do we just have low rung Kohls?
posted by Dreama at 7:59 PM on December 28, 2000

Another factor: Large conglomerates such as Federated Department Stores (parent to Macy's, Bloomingdales, Sterns, Bon Marche, and a bunch more) can ensure that they have a branded store to operate in any demographic niche they want. In high-middle income areas they can open a Macy's; affluent areas get a Bloomie's; lower to middle get a Sterns. And meanwhile, they still get the advantages of enormous national purchasing power.

Department stores are having a rough time of it, to be sure, but the larger consolidated players have a better shot than smaller regional concerns. Whether this is good or bad I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.
posted by mkhall at 8:39 PM on December 28, 2000

Dreama --

You may be right -- the Kohl's I have been in -- years ago -- were in Wisconsin, which, as hometown of the Kohl family, may have/had some unrepresentative "flagship"-type stores.

posted by MattD at 8:43 PM on December 28, 2000

Anyone know how Fred Meyer's is doing? Either you've heard of it or you haven't. It's a regional chain in the Northwest and northern California, gradually spreading east and south. It started as a single grocery store in downtown Portland, Oregon.

It's always done very well; I wonder if it's big enough to survive all this.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:02 PM on December 28, 2000

I used to work in the Wards catalog building about 10 years back. Never been around such an unhappy group of people before. Everyone was constantly worried about losing their jobs and no one had any faith in the company. I was doing layouts with such underachieving headlines as "Leather everwhere you touch" where you did not touch was poorly matched vinyl. When everybody else was offering better merchandise at low prices Wards offered poor quality merchandise at even lower prices.

My commas are showing up as 9's hence no commas. Time to load some software.
posted by thirteen at 10:17 PM on December 28, 2000

Steven: Fred Meyer was purchased by Kroger in 1999.
posted by Aaaugh! at 4:42 AM on December 29, 2000

I wonder what will happen when Fred Meyer expands eastward, and Meijer (pronounced "Meyer") expands westward, far enough for the two stores to collide. The two stores are very similar: big, all-in-one stores selling groceries and general merchandise.
posted by kindall at 7:47 AM on December 29, 2000

I stand by my original statement, and think you overestimate the effects of the trends you mentioned. The deep discounters have been around for years; the names may have changed in the last 30 years, but the idea is still the same. They do not compete directly with most department stores, and they too have been hurt by Wal-Mart. It's hard to overstate the impact Wal-Mart has had on retailing. They are, by far, the largest retailer in the country, and their annual sales are over 3.5 times higher than any other retailer. Wal-Mart has been responsible for enormous changes in the nature of retailing and the urban landscape, but that's a topic for a different thread.

There may be some impacts on the low-end department stores from the higher-end chains trying to expand their markets, but their effects are tiny compared to the category killers. The category killers bear the primary responsibility for removing departments from department stores. As recently as 15 years ago, downtown department stores sold everything from pets to stamp collecting materials to musical instruments. These days, most (with the exception of Sears) limit their inventory to clothing, bed and bath goods, and cosmetics. There's simply no way they can compete with Circuit City and Toys-R-Us, for example.
posted by Aaaugh! at 8:23 AM on December 29, 2000

kindall--I don't think we'll have a problem when Meyer meets Meijer, because eveyone here in Michigan (Meijer-land) pronounces Meijer "Meijer's" (see also Ford's, Kroger's, Border's (sic), Montgomery Ward's, Hudson's etc.).
posted by rodii at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2000

Okay, what am I missing? So, some company has terrible products, prices which can't compete with competent companies, but has a matching buying "experience", not to mention really fucking horrible ads, and I'm supposed to feel bad for them or something?

posted by ookamaka at 1:42 PM on December 29, 2000

Not for the company, for all the people.

Montgomery Ward, the man, is owed a great debt by Chicagoans. Among other things, he pretty much personally saved the lakefront as a public space.
posted by dhartung at 5:01 PM on December 29, 2000

Today's Tribune had an article about the layoffs. One of the people interviewed was responsible for putting together Ward's e-commerce site. He had a budget of seven thousand dollars.

In some ways they were sad. In other ways they were plucky to last as long as they have, since things went south for them around a decade ago. (But it was harder to see the problems when they were part of Federated.)
posted by dhartung at 5:07 PM on December 29, 2000

Gadzooks. What kind of talent can you hire for $7K? A team of high school students?
posted by kindall at 5:25 PM on December 29, 2000

Eh, maybe junior high students. Most technically literate high schoolers I know of, when whoring themselves to industry, get remarkably decent hourly rates. :-)
posted by youhas at 5:36 PM on December 29, 2000

They could do worse than to hire a high school student. Maybe they should have gotten Adam Hughes to come visit.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:02 PM on December 29, 2000

In addition to the 37k who are losing jobs, there will be additional fallout. There are three Wards in the greater Pittsburgh area, one is the only major retailer in a decimated former steel town, and two are anchor stores in decimated malls.

That former steel town is never going to get a Target, WalMart or KMart, which means that a new burden has been placed on the people who have been stuck there -- the elderly and low income, as everyone else has moved the heck out. Those two malls are going to have a hard time getting new anchor stores, which may lead to their closing altogether, meaning lost jobs for the hundreds who work in other mall stores.

Big rock, many ripples.
posted by Dreama at 10:07 AM on December 30, 2000

Dreama, one of the local malls near my old hometown faces a similar dilemma. Anchor stores include JCPenney (doing fine, it seems), Carson Pirie Scott, and Wards. That's it. (Yes, it's a pretty crappy mall.)

The question remains though, what's going to happen to that huge Wards space? The area is mostly lower to lower-middle income, and something like a Marshall Field's would be incredibly out of whack, and unwelcome. I have the feeling the space is going to remain empty for quite a while, and the mall will continue its rapid deterioration.

dhartung, $7k explains a lot. sheesh. And excellent call on the lakefront issue. [I can't get enough of Geoffrey Baer's Chicago series on WTTW]
posted by hijinx at 8:53 AM on January 1, 2001

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