Louis Vuitton – Does Macy’s Need To Be The World’s Largest Store?
Located at one of midtown Manhattan’s most visible corners, Macy’s at Herald Square proudly proclaims “World’s Largest Store” on its Broadway and 34th Street exterior. The prominent signage boasts a certain mystique that the retailer hopes will bring prestige to its entire nationwide chain of 512 department stores.
When it opened in November 1902, Macy’s Herald Square store contained one million square feet throughout its ten shopping floors. Additional expansions, in 1924 and 1930, increased the square footage to 2.185 million. By the mid 1930s, Macy’s frequently used the “World’s Largest Store” slogan in many advertisements and promotions.
Over the past 119 years, Macy’s Herald Square has served as the company’s crown jewel location. The retailer has often referred to its Herald Square store as its “most valuable asset.” The building, along with the land on which is stands, has recently been estimated between $3 and $4 billion in value.
In 2019, Macy’s announced an initial plan to construct an 800-foot tall office tower above the Herald Square store. The new 1.5 million square foot glass structure would add an estimated 6000 office employees to the already heavily-congested area. The 34th Street subway station, the third busiest in the entire system and located just beneath the store, would require significant upgrades in order to accommodate increased commuter traffic.
Despite reports of the company’s precarious financial position and a “potentially thorny” zoning change process, Macy’s confirmed in February 2020, that it was moving forward with the project. The retailer started meeting with local community groups and business leaders who shared concerns about the project.
However, everything came to a screeching halt last March, when Covid shut down the store and the city. The Herald Square area turned from a bustling business district to a commercial graveyard seemingly overnight. The World’s Largest Store remained closed to in-store shoppers for three months.
Fortunately, one year into Covid, there are signs of hope and improvement. Though the retailer has noticeably reduced its store hours, Macy’s has not closed off any of its sales space at Herald Square.
Customer foot traffic has increased at the department store. City tourism officials are optimistic that declining infection rates and increased vaccinations will help the city rebound, as early as the upcoming summer. They estimate that 38 million people will visit the city in 2021. That’s only half the number of those who visited in 2019, but it’s far greater than the dismal figures of 2020.
And Macy’s has not abandoned the tower project. Orlando Veras, Macy’s spokesperson, says that the company has moved forward with the permitting process. “While there have been some delays, we have laid the groundwork for this long-term project that will serve as a massive value-creating development.”
The investment and upgrading of Macy’s flagship has been a decades-long mission. In 2013, then-CEO Terry Lundgren stated the need to “elevate the store experience” and “create a luxury component” at Herald Square. A $400 million renovation plan added exclusive boutiques by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Longchamp, and others to the store’s main floor.
It’s a far cry from the mid-century utilitarian image of the R. H. Macy Co, when the store’s motto was “It’s Smart to be Thrifty.” By 1940, Macy’s carried 168 individual departments that offered goods such as bottle warmers, castanets, hectographs, megaphones, and sun dials. Customers were served by 55 elevators and 58 escalators and there were approximately 137,000 sales transactions every day. The merchandise was displayed on 9 miles of counter-space.
Macy’s Herald Square has not been the World’s Largest Store since 2009, when Guinness World Records certified that the accolade belonged to the Shinsegae Centum City department store in Busan, South Korea. At 5.847 million of square feet, Shinsegae is practically three times the size of Macy’s.
But the comparison of Macy’s and Shinsegae is a little unfair. Shinsegae Centum City offers such amenities as a golf driving range, an ice skating rink, a multiplex theater, and a rooftop theme park. Its interior space feels more like a shopping mall, with individual stores and boutiques.
One won’t find wooden escalators, ornate elevator banks, or expansive open floor space at the Shinsegae Centum City store. Nor can it claim the World’s Largest Shoe Floor. This honor belongs to Macy’s second floor with over 63,000-square feet containing 280,000 pairs of shoes. And even as Korea’s first department store, Shinsegae wasn’t founded until 1960.
Although “World’s Largest Store” no longer applies, size does not necessarily equate strength. “As the flagship of the Macy’s brand, our Herald Square store stands unique in our portfolio, both for its historical significance to our brand and the City of New York,” says Veras. “[It] provides customers with a singular Macy’s branded shopping experience.”
Macy’s has continued many of its traditions, from its July 4th fireworks presentation to its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even at the height of the pandemic, the retailer worked in concert with city officials and presented and reimagined both events for 2020.
The annual flower show, scheduled from May 2-16, is back on for 2021, despite last year’s cancellation. Veras states, “With the spirit of renewal and new days of hope on the horizon, Macy’s springtime celebration was reimagined to safely bring the magic of the season to life for guests in and around the iconic store.”
It is important for Macy’s to protect the Herald Square store’s stature. Often regarded as the company’s “billboard,” a positive image blurs the reality that the retailer is deeply in debt. In order to raise much-needed funds, the company has sold off some valuable pieces of real estate, such as the San Francisco Union Square, Chicago State Street, and Brooklyn Fulton Street buildings. There are more store closings planned.
A visit to the Macy’s Herald Square store should be a special event, from an unparalled and comprehensive collection of merchandise to unique food service offerings. There must always be a desire for improvement and innovation at the massive store. Its continued success is dependant on shoppers and tourists who wish to visit the store and return to make additional purchases.
Ultimately, it’s hard enough just being a retailer these days, let alone the “World’s Largest Store.”
Louis Vuitton – Does Macy’s Need To Be The World’s Largest Store?
Tags: Louis Vuitton