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Macy’s takes a hike and our identity crisis worsens

News that Macy’s is folding its regional corporate tent here and decamping to New York brought a churlish response from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

News that Macy’s is folding its regional corporate tent here and decamping to New York brought a churlish response from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. His terse 57-word “press release” on Wednesday stating regret that Macy’s would  “no longer be a part of” the city’s collection of advertising and marketing talent was his shortest in memory.

But the absence of words from the usually chatty Rybak, and the release’s passive-aggressive tone, reflected perfectly the void that Minnesotans feel about their collective condition, and their relative place in the world.

The trend is plainer every day. Big-time talent is re-sorting itself into big-time markets, and Minneapolis-St. Paul feels as if it is being pushed into the back row of second-tier American cities. The departure of Northwest Airlines for Atlanta is the next shoe likely to drop, perhaps as early as next week.

All of that explains why Johann Santana’s escape from the Minnesota Twins, and his comment to the New York media that “it wasn’t a hard decision,” felt like a blow to the midsection. And that’s why Kevin Garnett’s spectacular success in Boston after years of disappointment with the Minnesota Timberwolves brings on a pang of envy. The exit of these and other sports stars is a metaphor for what ails  the Twin Cities right now: the feeling that ours is a place to build up your resume for the ultimate reward in a more visible  place – or as Santana put it, he was happy to be with the Mets for “the next stage of my career.”

Minnesota excellence?

Minnesotans have spent the last three decades convincing themselves that excellence is possible even in the provinces; that a “Minnesota exceptionalism” separates this place from other outposts in the sticks, and that something remarkable has been built here in an otherwise cold and remote place.

But then, when Norwest Bank buys Wells Fargo and moves to San Francisco, as happened a few years back, and when Honeywell becomes Allied Signal and sets up shop in New Jersey, and when the St. Paul Companies (Travelers) are less and less really in St. Paul,  and when Ford pulls out of Highland Park, and when the Star Tribune is taken over by people from Sacramento, and then sold to a group of New York liquidators, and now, as the ax falls on what was once a community treasure known as Dayton’s, well, the moment seems ripe for Time magazine to return for a sequel to its glowing 1973 appraisal, and to ask the question: What the hell happened?

It would be nice to explain away all of that by pointing to the wave of new corporate and community energy filling the empty holes. But that’s not happening. The job growth picture has been dismal. Indeed, the state and region have fallen behind the national average on a number of economic indicators. Increasingly, Minneapolis-St. Paul seems to be assuming the Rest Belt characteristics of its Great Lakes neighbors, rather than the more dynamic flavors of its western competitors.

If the Minnesota Vikings follow Northwest Airlines out the door, as well could happen, the region’s national identity problem would take another big hit. No “rebranding” campaign can paper over the recent string of losses, felt perhaps most poignantly by Macy’s announcement this week. It was a reminder that the that the special, almost reverent feeling  you had walking into Dayton’s flagship store on Nicollet Mall has been slipping away for some time, and now has been lost forever.