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Macy’s confirms its closure at Water Tower Place

The retailer said the closure is part of a plan to reduce its number of department stores nationwide.

Shoppers depart the Macy’s store at Water Tower Place on Tuesday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Macy’s said Tuesday it will close its store in Water Tower Place as it trims its roster of department stores across the country to adjust to online shopping.

“The decision to close a store is always a difficult one, and Macy’s Water Tower Place has been honored to serve its customers on the Magnificent Mile for 45 years,” said Andrea Schwartz, senior director of media relations. The store was damaged during looting sprees last summer.

Schwartz said the decision stems from a store review Macy’s began in early 2020, which she noted was before COVID-19 and civil unrest disrupted retail operations.

She said the retailer will start a clearance sale at the store that will run eight to 12 weeks. Schwartz said employees have been notified. “Regular, non-seasonal colleagues who we are unable to place at a nearby Macy’s store will be eligible for severance, including outplacement resources,” she said.

Schwartz said Macy’s remains committed to Chicago at its State Street store and its suburban locations. She said Macy’s has invested $48 million in the State Street flagship since 2018.

Its suburban stores are in malls in Aurora, Calumet City, Gurnee, Joliet, Oak Brook, Orland Park, Schaumburg, Skokie and Vernon Hills.

Including its prior incarnation as Marshall Field’s, the Water Tower Place store has operated since the vertical mall opened in 1975 at 835 N. Michigan Ave.

A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot said of the closure, “It’s always sad to hear that a business is closing as it impacts the people who work and shop there. Macy’s is making a national strategic decision, initiated in early 2020, and we are confident they will continue investing in their flagship State Street location with its iconic history in Chicago.”

The store’s closing has been rumored since August. Lightfoot said then, “My understanding is that Macy’s notified the property owners at Water Tower in February that they probably were not going to renew their lease.” The mayor took issue with reports that linked the decision to looting.

Macy’s departure will leave Water Tower Place, an anchor of the Magnificent Mile retail district, without a full-line department store. It will create a hole on most levels of the vertical mall, once a pioneering urban venture. Data from CoStar Group show Macy’s accounts for 20% of the mall’s 818,000 square feet.

“The timing is unfortunate. It’s definitely a blow to the image of the Mag Mile,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the mall.

Hopkins said he believes Macy’s when it asserts the closure has more to do with trends in retail than with any fallout from last year’s looting. Both Macy’s downtown stores sustained damages. “I had top-level sources telling me a year ago about the likelihood that Macy’s would leave Water Tower Place,” he said.

Mall owner Brookfield Properties said, “While Macy’s has been an imperative part of Water Tower Place history, we are looking to the future. Evolving our shopping centers is an ongoing strategy. This is an opportunity to repurpose department store space to reflect the changing needs of our customer. We look forward to sharing updates with our community when we are able.”

Hopkins said Brookfield has been trying to revive the mall by drawing unique and destination retailers that offer an in-store experience that can’t be replicated online. One example, he said, is the mall’s Spirits & Spice store that sells hard-to-find liquors and flavorings.

However, Hopkins recalled the community reaction that killed the sports bar Dave & Buster’s plan to move to Water Tower Place in 2019. “That was a false start, so I think the owners there have an idea of the kinds of operations the community will not accept,” he said.

Kimberly Bares, president and CEO of the Magnificent Mile Association, said, “Macy’s decision to ‘right size’ its store fleet came in February 2020, pre-COVID-19 and pre-civil unrest, but many more retailers since have been challenged to find a balance between bricks and clicks. Moving forward in 2021, the future of retail will almost certainly include local fulfillment for e-commerce and expanded curbside pickup, as brick and mortar businesses compete for customers during the remaining months of the pandemic.”

She also emphasized that niche retailers promising unique experiences are coming to the avenue. Bares cited RealReal, a two-story luxury consignment store at 940 N. Michigan Ave.

Macy’s continues to support its Bloomingdale’s store at 900 N. Michigan, Bares noted.

Macy’s said it will close its Water Tower Place store after a clearance sale.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times