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Time running out to meet under Kaufmann’s clock

By Tony LaRussa
Friday, July 29, 2005

For many of Kaufmann’s most devoted customers — especially those who frequent the Downtown store on Smithfield Street — the change to a Macy’s moniker likely won’t change shopping habits that, for some, have been decades in the making.

Some business experts believe customer loyalty and a new association with a retailer that has a strong history of its own could ease the transition.

“Certainly, some people will see the change in names as the loss of something that is a major part of Pittsburgh’s history,” said Marc Jampole, of Jampole Communications, a marketing company Downtown. “But the fact that Macy’s is a well-known and respected name in retailing is a plus that should make the transition a little easier.”

Federated Department Stores Inc. announced Thursday that Kaufmann’s and many other regional department names will disappear next year, after it completes its deal for May Department Stores Co. The landmark Downtown Kaufmann’s and several suburban stores will become Macy’s.

Cathy McCollom of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation believes that because the Downtown store will remain open, it could play an important role in Pittsburghers’ acceptance of the name change.

“The memories that are triggered when people talk about Kaufmann’s — meeting friends under the Kaufmann’s clock or going to see the window displays during the holidays — are very much attached to the building itself,” McCollom said.

“Sure, the name is a big part of it because it’s been around so long,” she said. “But in a sense, the building is the source for many of those fond memories. The fact that people still will be able to see it, and still be able to shop there, is very important in minimizing whatever sense of loss they may be feeling.”

People who view the Downtown Kaufmann’s as their primary shopping destination said they will continue to patronize the store when it becomes a Macy’s.

“I’ve been coming here to shop since I moved to Pittsburgh in 1971,” said Catherine Thomas, 87, of Shadyside. “There’s still something special about coming Downtown to shop, and the store has a nice selection and the service is good.”

Maryann Finotti, of Emsworth, said she began shopping at Kaufmann’s when she was a child and still thinks it’s one of the region’s better retailers.

“Oh, I have wonderful memories of when I was a little girl, and my mother and aunt and I would dress up to come shopping Downtown,” said Finotti, 62, who worked at the store while she attended Duquesne University in the mid-1960s. “I still come down to shop here every Saturday and sometimes during the week. I’ll keep coming as long as they don’t change things too much.”

Jampole believes maintaining or improving the quality, service and selection of merchandise will be critical to easing the transition to the Macy’s name.

“It’s always a risky business when you change a name, especially when there are so many years invested in a brand,” he said. “The Kaufmann’s name is so much a part of Pittsburgh, and it has long been associated with a certain level of quality. Any changes will have to be focused on providing the same, or better, experience for the customer.”

Jackie Snell, professor of marketing at San Jose University in San Jose, Calif., predicts that Pittsburghers will grow nostalgic about the Kaufmann’s name, but will “get over it.”

“It’s difficult to predict what will happen when there is a collective loss of something that has been associated with a community for so long,” Snell said. “But Macy’s has a pretty solid reputation as a retailer, so I think there is a great chance that the name change will not have a deep negative effect.”

Tony LaRussa can be reached at

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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