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Opening Arguments

No miracle on 34th Street

Well, we knew this was coming, but it's still a sad day. If you like the idea of Fort Wayne having an L.S. Ayres, an Indiana mainstay forever, too bad; start getting used to the absence of the name. In fall of 2006, Federated Department Stores is dropping the L.S. Ayres brand and renaming all those stores Macy's. We're luckier than Indianapolis, at least. Federated is closing the Ayres at Castleton, which I think has (or at least has had) a tea room just like the multi-story Ayres that graced downtown Indy for so long.

A lot of people today probably only think of Ayres as just one of many stores at Glenbrook, and it won't make that much difference if the name changes or if a slightly different set of merchandise is sold there. Stores come and go at malls, and it doesn't have quite the same emotional impact as the loss of a retailer downtown.

That's what a lot of people will be thinking about when they hear this news -- the glory days when Ayres, the Grand Leader, Murphys and Wolf & Dessauer made downtown Fort Wayne a thriving and vibrant gathering place. It's not, I suspect, just nostalgia for a bygone era, but a deeper sense of loss. Big department stores once added character and distinction to city blocks. Now they're just places to buy stuff, and that probably symolizes, for many people, the decline of a lot of other things, too.

Showfr This really will be the end of an era. Almost every city has a legendary department store deep in its collective memory -- the sort of place grandparents tell their grandkids about, as in: "Why, there's nothing like it today;I remember one Christmas . . . " Wolf & Dessauer was that store in Fort Wayne. When the people who owned Ayres bought it in the '60s and changed the name, the building was still there, so people felt some continuity. Even when the company closed the downtown store, it kept the Ayres stores in Southtown and Glenbrook, so that was a link, however, tenuous, to the glory days of downtown. It also helped that Ayres was a famous Indiana name. A lot of people went on shopping trips to Indianapolis that consisted mostly of going to L.S. Ayres and Blocks.

That link to downtown will be gone, now, I suspect. But who knows? Maybe in 40 years, people will be talking about the glory days of Macy's in Fort Wayne. "Well, kids, believe it or not, it was in a giant building with all these other stores. I tell you, there's nothing like it today."

(The photo is from The News-Sentinel's files-- click on it to see the larger version.  The wooden replica of Wolf & Dessaur was one of a series of replicas of famous Fort Wayne buildings sold by the preservationist group ARC a few years ago.)