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The Resurrection of Once-famous Department Stores May Be Imminent

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Macy’s sued Strategic Marks of California in 2011 over that company’s use of the names and logos of heritage brands like Jordan Marsh, Bullock’s, Robinsons, May, Filene’s, and Abraham & Strauss in a virtual mall.

Strategic Marks’ CEO Ellia Kassoff applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to take over the trademarks for the brands. Federal law says a brand is considered abandoned if a business doesn’t use it for three years. However, Macy’s sued Kassoff in an attempt to block the move and retain the rights to the brands.

Kassoff countersued, claiming that Macy’s abandoned its rights to the trademarks and had been illegally using them on its website, according to federal court records.

The company, which revives brands that are no longer used, entered a settlement with Macy’s that grants them the trademarks to several defunct department stores, which once enjoyed great success.

While Strategic Marks lost rights to Macy’s Chicago-based Marshall Field’s, New York’s Abraham & Strauss and Boston-based Filene’s, they have acquired trademark rights to I. Magnin, a San Francisco-based high-fashion and specialty-goods chain that shut down in 1995; Robinson’s, an upscale Los Angeles-based store; May Co., an L.A.-based mid-level chain that merged with Robinson’s in 1993 to form Robinsons-May, which folded in 2006; Boston’s Jordan Marsh store—known for its blueberry muffins; and Bullock’s, which also was based in Los Angeles until it closed in 1996. Additionally the company was granted trademarks to Foley’s, a clothing and housewares store originally in Houston; and Bamberger’s, once popular in New Jersey.

Federated Department Stores Inc. converted hundreds of regional department stores it owned into its Macy's brand in 2006 before adopting Macy's Inc. as its corporate name in 2007.

The settlement enables Strategic Marks to go ahead with its plan for an online retro fashion mall, where Kassoff plans to revive the brands before launching brick-and-mortar stores in major malls.

“The key is making the experiences the way people remember them,” Kassoff said. “I want to bring back all the stuff that Macy's tossed out.”

Kassoff bemoans the fact that the Macy’s shopping experience feels very “homogenized,” where you can find almost exactly the same merchandise at stores across the country. His plan is to use regional buyers who would pick items tailored to customers in specific areas.

Kassoff said that in his research, “Consumers noted the current shopping experience is quite drab, as there is no localized marketing or buying for the regional stores anymore. People want to go back to the days when shopping was a real experience at their local department store.”

It’s a fascinating experiment and it may be challenging for Strategic Marks to pull off a brick-and-mortar department store resuscitation, since most department stores are struggling. Omni-channel shopping wasn’t around in the days of most of these brands, so the attraction to shop in a newly revived department store may not have much appeal.

But, retro is in, and it could be that these old brands could connect with shoppers’ emotion and discovery by both Millennials and Boomers alike. The “magic” will be in its execution and it will be interesting to see what  unique in-store experiences Strategic Marks can cook up to attract and differentiate itself from a “homogenized” Macy’s.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers,
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