Model Laurel Hill used to make $600 a day — and that work day could be as short as five hours. She knew she could count on several such good days every month.

But in mid-January, her income left town. ZCMI, the biggest employer of fashion models in Utah, was sold to the May Department Stores Co., based in St. Louis.

"It's horrible," said Hill, 29. "I used to live off that money." Hill was born and reared in Holladay and moved to Los Angeles and then New York City to pursue her modeling career. But it was in Salt Lake City where she made it, posing in ZCMI's print ads, TV commercials and catalogs. "I was pretty much their catalog queen," she said.

Hill still models in ZCMI's local fashion shows, but those don't pay nearly as well as the advertising work. Nor do the shows come around as often as the catalog and print ad shoots did. So she took a job at Great Garb, a clothing store in Park City, and signed up for classes at Salt Lake Community College.

"I thought it was time to see what I want to be when I grow up," Hill said with a smile. She's working on her general studies courses and shopping for a new vocation.

The sale of ZCMI in January also emptied out the store's advertising department, which used to occupy a whole floor of the store's corporate offices in Salt Lake City. After 131 years as a Utah company, ZCMI became part of the May Co.'s Meier & Frank division. Meier & Frank is headquartered in Portland, Ore., and doesn't share ZCMI's former policy of exclusively using Utah models and photographers.

Cheryl Hansen, Meier & Frank's spokeswoman, said the company has always done all of its advertising out of its central office in Portland.

Barbara Mason is one of the ZCMI ad department employees who lost her job in January — but she's anything but bitter. "I'm a ZCMI baby. My mom was an art director . . . and I was a senior designer for 12 years," she said. "But we had to move on. I was forced to change, so I said, 'I'm going to change.' " Mason, 48, works in sales at Pottery Barn in Salt Lake City, and "Oh, my gosh, I just love it."

"How has (the sale) affected me? Well, I'm moving. I'm packing right now to go to a smaller studio," said photographer Butch Adams. ZCMI work provided 60 percent of his income for the past 15 years. It stopped six months ago when the sale was finalized, but "it seems like forever since then," Adams said. He's kept busy photographing ads for outdoor equipment companies such as Black Diamond, and he occasionally goes to Nashville to shoot for CD covers. But Adams has boxed up his 3,000-square-foot studio in Salt Lake City to move to a snug space "about the size of my office."

Money isn't the only reason local fashion models and photographers miss ZCMI.

"I loved working with them," said Vickie Panek, co-owner of the Talent Management Group in Salt Lake City. For her modeling agency, ZCMI was more than a lucrative client. "They were steady. And steady means a lot in this business. We developed a tight-knit relationship with them, and any time you have that, the work is more rewarding," she said. "It was like a family. Now it's like Mom and Dad split."

Michelle Shuttleworth, the former creative director in ZCMI's advertising department, says she doesn't really care for the look of ZCMI's new ads, but she, too, was upbeat about her forced job change. "It was hard emotionally. I spent 20 years at ZCMI. But it was a good thing for me to move on." Shuttleworth now works in the advertising division at Nu Skin in Provo.

Shuttleworth said hearing rumors before the sale of ZCMI actually happened was more painful than the final announcement. Skip Schmiett, a Salt Lake photographer she often worked with on ZCMI ads, said all the pre-sale talk reinforced what he knew already. "In this business, you learn that there's no such thing as a client that lasts forever," Schmiett said.


E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com