Burdines books one-way ticket into city's history on Eastern
By Michael Lewis
Another massive chunk of Miami history is about to fall off the map with the loss of the Burdines name on what once was Miami's emblematic department store.
You can say a store is only a store, one of many. You can say that the 10 Burdines locations in Miami-Dade County can be called Macy's and nothing will change. You could be right.
On the other hand, look at other lost brand names that had Miami written all over them and see what happened.
Southeast Bank is long gone, a victim of federal regulators' overzealousness. But the name still resonates as a reminder of the days when the biggest bank in the community was also of the community - based right here, owned right here and wielding massive power and influence right here. When the head of Southeast spoke, the community both listened and acted.
The largest banks that tower over Miami today are based and owned elsewhere, and it's hard for their local leaders to direct corporate spotlights on Miami's needs because of the equal needs of other cities those massive institutions serve.
Today, Miami is not a hometown banking powerhouse. We're a branch city.
Eastern Air Lines was another hometown brand, a massive employer and a feeder of millions of visitors to develop Miami as a tourist mecca. Other airlines like National and PanAm also came to be synonymous with Miami over the years. The heads of these airlines were civic figures to be reckoned with downtown.
The airlines that serve us today, dominated by American, also employ thousands and bring floods of visitors, but their corporate attention is focused elsewhere and their traffic patterns that bring flights to Miami are subject to rapid changes in corporate aim - changes not tempered by the community sensitivity of a hometown business.
Today, Miami is not a hometown airline powerhouse. We're a spoke city.
Downtown Miami once was dominated by hometown hotels to house the visitors Eastern and National and PanAm brought to us. The hotels were neither as grand nor as efficient as today's chain-operated hostelries, but they bore Miami brands.
The Columbus and McAllister were replaced by a throwaway mall at Flagler and Biscayne Boulevard, itself about to fall for residential towers. The Everglades still stands just to the north but is about to be razed for condos. The terminally ugly Dupont Plaza was as iconic as the others in latter decades but is disappearing ever so slowly, piece by piece, to make way for more new developments. Even the Pavillion, built 20 years ago as the most upscale of all upscale establishments, became the chain InterContinental.
Today, Miami is not awash with hometown hotel brand names. We're a chain city.
It wasn't long ago that a hometown media giant dominated civic, business and governmental discussions in Miami. Love it or hate it, Knight-Ridder (after it was just Knight and before the hyphen was knocked out of the name) was a globally known media corporation based in Miami. Leaders of the newspaper business and the journalism world (and they are not synonymous terms) flocked to Miami for meetings with the Knight team. And if Alvah Chapman asked that something in this community be done, it got done - or else.
But when Knight Ridder (now sans hyphen) moved to California to be near the Internet (please explain that to me again, will you?), the chain's Miami Herald became just another dot on the corporation's media map. Corporate leadership disappeared. Can anyone name a single Knight Ridder executive now living in Miami?
Today, Miami is not a name to be reckoned with in journalism. We're a carbon copy.
Retailing. Banking. Airlines. Hotels. Media. Lands of disappearing icons of Miami, replaced by brands no more emblematic of our community than of Wichita or Cleveland.
Why, if you cross the county line to Broward, Knight Ridder's Herald even drops Miami from its name.
Four Seasons, Mandarin, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad, JW Marriott and others are great names in the hotel world, but if Miami appears in the name here, it certainly won't out of town.
So why should Burdines be any different?
It was started right here in 1898. When it branched out from Miami, it didn't go global - and it called itself "the Florida store."
But the handwriting was on the sign when it recently became Burdines-Macy's. Now the 60-some stores bearing the hyphenated Burdines name in Florida are to become just plain old Macy's - a great name, but no more evocative of Miami or Florida than are polar bears or mountain peaks.
No use lamenting the passing of a retailing icon with Miami embedded in its very fabric. We've seen too many of them go - either elsewhere or to the great brand-name heaven in the sky.
The 10,600 Burdines employees will by and large have jobs. The 10.375 million square feet of store space mostly will stay in use under Macy's. The $1.339 billion in sales last year will be folded into the massive Macy's bottom line in Federated Department Stores' annual report.
Only the ties to Miami's history, culture and community fabric are being severed once and for all. That is the great loss.
But there is a positive side to all of this.
When giant trees fall, they leave room for seedlings on the forest floor to get sunlight, nutrients and growing space and to themselves reach for the heavens.
Likewise, losses of corporations that dominate a community's business and civic life leave room for homegrown enterprises to thrive, unfettered by giants stealing their sunlight or spotlight or controlling the marketplace.
And Miami is today a city of entrepreneurs, from virtually every background imaginable, in virtually every field, who are growing their enterprises.
Unfettered by the overwhelming civic dominance of a Burdines or an Eastern or a Southeast or a Knight Ridder, these new entrepreneurs have room to spread their wings and soar to leadership roles both in the community and in the economy.
Burdines, the last of the hometown giants, is gone. But something new will come along - as it always does in Miami - as a new community icon.
Just pray it isn't based in Alabama or North Carolina or California or New York.