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Famous store’s closing is latest big change on Chicago’s State St

SHARE Famous store’s closing is latest big change on Chicago’s State St

CHICAGO — State Street may still be a great street, as the song says. But Friday's news that the Carson Pirie Scott department store was leaving the landmark building it's called home for more than a century was just the latest reminder that it is no longer the same street.

With the owner of the venerable Marshall Field's set to do what generations of Chicagoans thought unthinkable — change the name of the department store in the fall to Macy's — the loss of Carson Pirie Scott is viewed by some as a signal that the area is undergoing tremendous and positive change, and by others as a body blow.

"State Street is gone, as far as I'm concerned." said Robert Ledermann, author of "Chicago's State Street Christmas Parade."

"It's just like someone passed away, it really is," he said.

Dorothea Phipes sees it the same way. "I think it's dreadful," said Phipes, 93, as she waited for a bus outside the store. "It's the only thing left down here. I've been coming here for 30 years. It's terrible. The world is changing."

That's the point of those who don't see the closure as such a bad thing.

"The reality is there is tremendous positive change taking place all around this location," said Tyrone Tabing, executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance, an area chamber of commerce. "This is an opportunity for an upgrade in available retail on State Street."

The fact is, say the owners of Carson Pirie Scott, there just weren't enough shoppers spending enough money at the store. Just as it was a lot easier to find someone lamenting last year's announcement that The Berghoff Restaurant would close after more than a century than it was finding someone who still ate there regularly, so, too, the store's owner said shoppers weren't flocking to the State Street store the way they used to.

"The store was not making money," said Bud Bergren, president and CEO of the Bon-Ton Stores Inc., based in York, Pa.

According to Bon-Ton, the store was losing sales at the same time the cost of running the building was climbing. So, when the owner of the building came to Bon-Ton and offered it money to leave, it did just that. The store is scheduled to close next March; Carson's more than two dozen other Chicago-area stores will remain open.

Bon-Ton said 300 full-time employees and 150 part-time employees will be affected. They will be offered the chance to interview for positions at other store locations, the company said.

The building's owner, Joseph Freed and Associates, said it has big plans for the building, designated a National Historic Landmark. Far from letting the structure designed by the famed architect Louis Sullivan in the late 19th century fall apart, the company has engaged in a massive renovation project that included restoring the building's terra cotta facades and historic cornice, which was removed in the 1940s.

The company won't get any more specific than saying it is "excited about the potential to bring additional world-class retailers to both State Street and Wabash Avenue," according to a news release. Ultimately, the project will include converting 250,000 square feet for retail, and 350,000 square feet for new "office, school and entertainment space on the third through seventh floors," according to the release.

Contributing: Megan Reichgott