Retail stores come and go, that’s the nature of the business.
Yet, the news of Macy’s closing after 76 years in the heart of downtown Walla Walla — First Avenue and Main Street — is as stunning as it is sad.
Many in the city were somehow convinced that our Macy’s would remain open even as the national retail giant was closing store after store across the nation as internet sales have put the hurt on brick-and-mortar locations.
After all, Macy’s owns the sprawling building at 54. E. Main St. It’s the last traditional department store standing in the Valley.
But last week, seemingly out of nowhere — boom! — Walla Walla’s Macy’s was targeted for closure just like stores in Montana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Maryland and Ohio.
“It’s a sad day for Walla Walla to see the closing of Macy’s,” said Libby Frazier, who managed the local store from 1978 until 1997. “We cared so much about our customers and our community. We created an experience — not just shopping.”
And while much has changed in nation’s retail industry over the past two decades, Macy’s has remained the anchor of downtown shopping. Macy’s presence downtown was central to the revitalization effort, which included enhancing the look of the central business district to accommodate retail shops, restaurants and tasting rooms.
The look of the Macy’s building, which was constructed in 1920, sets the tone for downtown’s historical feel. A.M. Jensen Co. built the main structure to sell clothing and groceries.
In the mid-1940s, The Bon Marche, a Seattle-based department store chain, took over the space. Macy’s purchased The Bon Marche and, over time, transitioned from The Bon to Bon-Macy’s and then, it was just Macy’s. But it was still the same department for its customers.
In 1991, the historic Liberty Theater, which was no longer being used to show movies, was gutted and rebuilt to expand Macy’s retail space. The renovation project was stunning — adding further luster to downtown.
Now what? That’s the question all of Walla Walla — and the downtown merchants, in particular — want answered.
But whatever the future holds for 54 E. Main St., the odds are the building will be used in a way that meshes well the current downtown vibe.
In the wake of Macy’s announcement, City Manager Nabiel Shawa — like all of us — was saddened. Yet, he also remained optimistic that the Walla Walla brand, which has grown incredibly in the Northwest over the past two decades, and its Main Street are strong enough to rebound from the closure.
“Our future is very bright,” he said.
History indicates, based on all that was done to revitalize downtown not that many years ago, that is indeed the case.