Breaking News Bar
updated: 4/1/2016 7:27 AM

Remembering Marshall Field's at the Bartlett Library

Success - Article sent! close
  • Leslie Goddard stands at the front of the crowded room, delving deep into the history of the infamous Marshall Field's.

    Leslie Goddard stands at the front of the crowded room, delving deep into the history of the infamous Marshall Field's.
    Courtesy of Roslyn Summerville

Submitted by Roslyn Summerville, Bartlett Library

At the Bartlett Library on March 30, Leslie Goddard energetically engaged an audience of 25 patrons in her presentation of the history of Marshall Field's. Throughout the presentation, many patrons would enthusiastically nod their heads or murmur in agreement to remembering certain aspects about the store.

When patrons were asked to shout out what comes to their minds when they hear the words "Marshall Field's" they said things like classy, big, food, Christmas windows, Christmas tree, etc. It was apparent that there were many memories the patrons had of Marshal Field's.

Goddard then went into the history of the store, showing the steps that occurred in order for the store to be such a Chicago icon.

Potter Palmer founded the original dry goods store on Lake Street, deciding that Chicago was a good place to open up his business due to it being a growing city. Palmer did a few things differently from the other dry goods stores around; he brought in luxury goods like lace, silk and velvets. He also made sure to have elegant displays and marble flooring.

Palmer also made it so that any item bought in his store could be returned with a full refund no matter what. So, even early on in the store's history, it was apparent that a customer having good experiences was key to growing a good business.

However, Palmer's health was failing him, so he had to go back home to Europe in order to get better. Instead of closing up the shop, he approached Marshal Field and Levi Leiter. They accepted in taking over the store, and it was then named Field, Palmer, Leiter & Company.

The two bought out Palmer, and Leiter left the business eventually, so the store was then named Marshall Field & Company, or more commonly as Marshall Field's. This was when the business really looked after customer service, making that its number one priority.

Goddard shared a story she knew of when Field walked by a customer complaining to a manager. He approached the manager and asked what the problem was. The manager replied by saying that he was taking care of a customer complaint. Field said, "No you're not. Give the lady what she wants." This was the basis for their strong customer loyalty: Field really paid attention to the needs of the customers.

The store was also very popular in part because of all the services it had to offer. There were restaurants, travel agencies, repair shops, a children floor and much, much more. The store was intended to be a place where you could go and spend the entire day without having to leave. It was also meant to be an experience, to surround its customers with beauty and elegance. Some would say that the most significant attraction within the store was the Tiffany mosaic. Supposedly, it took 50 men two years to make.

Marshal Field's became such an iconic location in Chicago that the building was made a Chicago City Landmark. And when Marshal Field's was taken over by Macy's, it became apparent that many Chicagoans disagreed with this change, and were even angered by it for many, many years.

One of the patrons at the program said, "I've seen Macy's as a symbol of New York. So, I viewed it as New York coming into our territory."

Everything that Marshall Field's did for its customers showed with that patron's one comment. The store established such a loyalty within its customers that they keep protesting year after year for the store to go back to its name of Marshall Field's.

The program ended with everyone sharing stories dear to them when they would go to Marshall Field's with their families.

The next Adult program at the Bartlett Library is "Create a Quote of Art: A Painting Workshop" on Saturday, April 2 at 2 p.m. Come join the Bartlett Library and create a "Quote of Art" in honor of the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Christine Thornton will teach how to draw a decorative border around an inspirational Shakespeare quote, and then add color with watercolor pencils. Beginners are welcome. Registration is required.

For more information and a complete listing of scheduled programs, call 630.837.2855 or visit