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Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Say bon voyage to Bon name

Seattle Times business reporters

Two women on the seventh floor were already decorating Christmas trees, and another employee guessed that the holiday star would crown the building at Third Avenue and Pine Street, just like every year before.

But The Bon Marché name, introduced in Seattle in 1890 when Edward and Josephine Nordhoff opened a small store at First Avenue and Cedar Street, will live for only one holiday season more.

The Northwest department-store chain — with 50 stores in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming — will become Macy's in January, along with the four other regional department-store chains owned by Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores.

The Bon Marché was officially renamed Bon-Macy's last year, but Federated had yet to remove the iconic gold signs that defined the downtown headquarters. Those signs will come down early next year.

The Bon through the years


1890: Edward and Josephine Nordhoff open The Bon Marché, a small store selling dry goods and notions at First Avenue and Cedar Street in Belltown. Edward envisioned a department store modeled after one of the same name in Paris.

1929: The Bon is sold to Hahn Department Stores, a group of 28 retail establishments, which reorganizes as Allied Stores in 1933.

1950: The Bon's Northgate store opens as the nucleus of the 80-store Northgate Shopping Center, America's first modern shopping mall.

1986: Canadian entrepreneur Robert Campeau purchases Allied Stores.

1988: Campeau purchases Federated Department Stores.

1990: Federated and Allied file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

1992: The new Federated Department Stores emerges from Chapter 11.

1994: Acquisition of R.H. Macy & Co. makes Federated the nation's largest operator of premier department stores.

2003: On Aug. 1, Federated rebrands its regional department stores with the Macy's nameplate, and The Bon Marché becomes Bon-Macy's.

Yesterday: Federated announces the regional stores will be called Macy's as of January 2005.

Source: Bon-Macy's and HistoryLink.org

Dan Edelman, Bon-Macy's chairman and chief executive, said the chain began testing customer reaction after introducing the hyphenated name a year ago.

While its name will change, the Northwest stores will maintain regional offices, and the buyers will continue to cater to Northwest tastes. "We will still be a regional department store, with all the advantages of a national brand," Edelman said.

To be sure, Federated plans to introduce a national Macy's credit-card loyalty program next year. The name change, the company said, would also help it unify the chain's important bridal-registries business, launch national marketing campaigns and make it possible for a customer to buy a blouse in Seattle and return it in New York.

Costs to change signs, credit cards and employee name tags will be covered by the $600 million Federated already budgeted for capital expenditures.

Mary Ann Odegaard, director of the retail-management program at The University of Washington, said department stores have been forced to consolidate operations to survive.

"Federated has owned all of these different names," she said of its five regional department-store chains. "You've got all these separate identities, and it's just not as powerful."

The other regional stores converting to the Macy's name are Burdines in Florida, Goldsmith's in Tennessee, Lazarus in the Midwest and Rich's in the Southeast. The name will go on 184 regional stores, joining the 239 current Macy's department stores.

The name of Federated's other well-known department store, Bloomingdale's, will not change.

Although many shoppers said they still planned to shop at Bon-Macy's, the loss of "The Bon" legacy still stings.

"It's terrible," said George McKeon, 68, of Seattle. "They're taking a landmark. The Bon Marché was such a better name."

The Bon Marché was founded in 1890 as a small store that sold dry goods and notions. It was sold to Hahn Department stores in 1929, a group of retailers that was reorganized into Allied Stores four years later.

In the proceeding years, The Bon Marché opened locations throughout the Northwest, in Bellingham and Walla Walla, in Alderwood and Olympia malls.

In 1988, Campeau/Allied purchased Federated Department Stores. Federated and Allied filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1990 and emerged as Federated Department Stores in 1992. The leaner, more efficient company bought R.H. Macy & Co. two years later.

Federated's sales at stores open at least a year have risen in all but one month this year after three years of annual declines.

Odegaard said that while Federated said it plans to continue operating regional department stores, most other retailers have found it more cost-effective to consolidate buying.

Seattle author and retail expert Robert Spector said that while The Bon has had better, more stable ownership, its name won't be missed like the late Frederick & Nelson's — the department store where little boys bought their first suit and locals bought war bonds during World War II.

"Frederick & Nelson's was more than a store; The Bon Marché was a store," Spector said. "And that's the difference."

Retail expert Richard Outcalt of Outcalt & Johnson said Macy's is one of the top 10 brands in the world, and "that's reason enough to do it."

"They won't lose one customer, and they will gain customers by people who visit Seattle," he said. "We only see it as a plus for business."

Roxanne Mennes, 37, of Seattle wondered if The Bon's longtime calypso jingle — the one that starts Day-O, Sale-O — would remain. She said it lost a bit of its charm when The Bon Marché name changed to Bon-Macy's.

"If they go to Macy's, it's really going to be off," Mennes said.

Feliks Banel, who oversees the Museum of History & Industry, said the museum doesn't lament the change, although he'd like to know who will get The Bon Marché signs.

"But we like when a region can remain distinctive," he said. "Like it or not, one of the things that makes a region distinctive is its iconic businesses. And once Bon changes it name, it won't be anymore."

Information from Bloomberg News was included in this report. Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com

Blanca Torres: 206-515-5066 or btorres@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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