Monday, December 3, 2007

Walnut Room Great Tree, Chicago

The Great Tree in the Walnut Room in Chicago is a tradition which thousands of people flock to see each Christmas. This was the centenary year of the 45ft tree which stands on the seventh floor of Macy's. (Pictured is a small replica in the San Fran store)

Martha Stewart was chosen to design it. She has revived a decoration of the mid-1800s, a kugel - German for 'ball' - but reproduced it in brilliant colours of silver, gold, green, turquoise, pink and red. Kugels shimmer down the tree in coloured layers. And with 15,000 lights it is, quite simply, dazzling!

Probably the brightest tree on the planet!

Gazing down at the tree from the eighth floor is an amazing experience and even though I think the kugels merge into the colour, the overall effect is stunning.

But behind the Walnut Room lies a most un-Christmassy tale. The store was Marshall Field's until it was sold and rebranded last year as Macy's flagship. And Chicagoans are outraged by the name change. For it is a unique Chicagoan emporium founded over 150 years ago by Marshall Field, with unsurpassed features and history of shopping innovation.

There is the domed Tiffany ceiling, Daniel Burnham fountain, massive granite pillars and two seven-ton multi-faced Great Clocks that hang outside on corners. Each Christmas animated displays fill the windows on State street, this year being the story of the Nutcracker ballet.

The motto 'Give the lady what she wants!' became an inspiration for shoppers worldwide as did money back guarantees, having a restaurant in a store, elevators and a bridal registry.

Now there is a protest campaign, locals are boycotting it and the Chicago Tribune reports a slump in profits.

But wasn't it obvious? As an annual visitor to the city, I lament the loss of Marshall Field's. Quite aside from the perception that Macy's are trampling on history, part of the allure of shopping whether to browse or buy is exclusivity, part is having somewhere different to shop.

Chicago is a world conference centre. Every November it hosts the largest conference in the world for radiologists and associated industries bringing 62,000 people into the city in a week.

Imagine what would happen in London to Harrods and Harvey Nicks if overnight these stores became Debenhams?!!

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