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Open Letter

The Walnut Room may have improved the quality of its food this holiday season. Perhaps now it's on par with Burger King's French Toast Sticks. I don't know. After last year's vile experience at our family's annual Walnut Room breakfast, preceding the traditional visit to Santa, we vowed never to return. [See last year's letter to Macy's below for the nightmarish details.] It was an easy promise to keep, admittedly in part because our youngest child no longer believes in Santa, just in presents from Santa.

You have, to your credit, settled on a theme for the Christmas windows on State Street that actually has something to do with Christmas - the Nutcracker - after several years of stories which were complete holiday nonsequiters. However, you are simultaneously continuing the recent and unconscionable practice of decorating the giant Walnut Room tree not in tandem with the window displays, but as a crass merchandising push.

The irony is that in the past, Marshall Field's managed to decorate the tree to match its windows and use it as a crass merchandising push, and you could have too. For instance, the year Field's windows displayed the story of the Grinch, a giant Grinch perched on the wall near the top of tree, which looked straight out of Who-ville. Meanwhile, many Grinch items were on sale all over the store. You could have done that with the Nutcracker. Maybe you've failed to notice that many stores find all manner of Nutcracker memorabilia to push at this time of year? Like . . . nutcrackers.

I guess there's just too much more money to be made from Martha Stewart than Nutcracker knickknacks. In association with the State Street Macy's recent Martha Stewart craze, rather than in association with Christmas, the tree was officially decorated by Martha herself. (Though like other rich people these days, Martha didn't put up her own Christmas decorations; that's for the hired help.) At least you haven't included a manger underneath the tree with a Virgin Mary sporting a preternaturally blonde pageboy and an annoying smirk, arranging the hay just so.

Let's be clear, Macy's: I'm not getting teary-eyed because the Fields no longer own the store. Like anyone else, the Fields owned the store to make money, not because they cared about making Chicagoans feel good about themselves. And it especially doesn't bother me to have Field's owned by Macy's rather than the Target corporation. (Target itself has really gone downhill, I might add.) I'm also not boycotting your stores, though you were churlish not to include the Field name as part of the State Street store's moniker for simple historical continuity - an entirely free bone you could have thrown to assuage local sensibilities.

But your tree is hideous.

Happy Holidays,

Cate Plys


Cate's Open Letter to Macy's following last year's holiday season:

Dear Macy's:

It's been two months, and only now am I beginning to deal with the horrific experience of Christmas at the State Street Macy's, aka Marshall Field's. If I had a therapist, he or she would be pleased with my progress. I don't have one, so this letter will be my therapy.

Now, it is not entirely your fault that the Walnut Room sucks. And suck it does, so royally that the outrageous prices should include one of those minor titles frequently sold off by impoverished British aristocrats to fund rehab for themselves or the ancient family manor. Had I been charged $6.50 for a small glass of eggnog but left the Walnut Room a duchess, I might not complain.

Ever has it been so, and thus, Marshall Field's must take its share of the considerable blame. However, when you made the churlish decision to erase the Field name from Chicago entirely, I had hoped some small good might still come from your corporate ownership. Specifically, I hoped the Walnut Room would raise its standards slightly higher than a combination Dunkin' Donuts/Kentucky Fried Chicken. But no.

Let me also take a share of the blame for my repeated visits to the Walnut Room, which must appear both inexplicable and masochistic. My Walnut Room attendance is of a religious nature. I did not choose to be raised Catholic, and neither did I choose to be raised a native Chicagoan, worshipping at the altar of Marshall Field's holiday windows and genuflecting before the Walnut Room's massive Christmas tree.

These days I'm an atheist and I generally treat the State Street Marshall Field's/Macy's as a heated or air-conditioned corridor leading to the nearby Filene's Basement. But religion has a way of sucking you back in for the holidays.

In my case, I see no reason to put up with ubiquitous Christianity all year long and then skip the only good part, Christmas. Accordingly, my children have been taught, like all good Chicagoans, that the real Santa sees kids at the State Street Field's. Only such inflexible dogma could get my husband and I to blow about fifty bucks each year on a sorry Walnut Room breakfast before visiting Santa.

But this year, I have to tell you, even the kids noticed that it sucked. Normally, so long as there's a big train going around the Christmas tree, they wouldn't notice if the waiter spit on their food after placing it on the table in front of them. That is how bad the Walnut Room has gotten.

Let's start with your tree. The giant Christmas tree not only had nothing to do with the holiday window theme of Mary Poppins, it had nothing to do with Christmas at all. It was decorated instead with blue-and-white fake Wedgwood ornaments, a mercenary tie-in to a store push to sell Wedgwood. Wedgwood reminds me of ancient Greece. It doesn't remind me of Christmas. It would have made as much sense to decorate the tree with golden Buddhas.

Even more inexplicably, a store employee was dressed in a somewhat ratty Cinderella costume and charged with visiting each table to ask patrons if they wanted to get sprinkled with fairy dust. Ah, the logical problems here - where to start? First, are you aware that Cinderella is not a Christmas story? Second, are you aware that Cinderella is not herself a fairy, and so does not, and cannot, sprinkle fairy dust on anyone?

I could only presume that some genius made the Cinderella connection because the Disney Cinderella wears a blue dress approximately the same color as Wedgwood - which, of course, has nothing to do with Christmas.

Even so, the kids may have accepted the strange anachronism if your Cinderella hadn't been so shy that she could barely approach a table. Once standing tableside, she was unable to speak to us beyond an incomprehensible mumble as she stared at the floor. Either she was morbidly shy, or embarrassed at having to dress up as Cinderella for Christmas. It took much repeating before we understood what her container of silver glitter was all about. The whole thing was so insane, I let her sprinkle some on me for a laugh. She was grateful to do it and move on. Sadly, my dreams did not come true. I was still in the Walnut Room, and had not been magically transported to Lou Mitchell's, where someone was handing me some fresh doughnut holes as I waited for a table.

What else. Well, as usual the food was straight off a conveyor belt, possibly manned by Lucy and Ethel. You, Macy's, are so cheap you don't even provide the usual complimentary cranberry walnut muffin (slightly stale) with the menus. The mighty Walnut Room was out of hot chocolate, though we were among the very first customers. Perhaps the Walnut Room does not know that children make up a rather high percentage of its clientele at Christmas, and perhaps the Walnut Room does not know that children in winter invariably want hot chocolate. Perhaps no one at Macy's is personally acquainted with a child.

We noticed that a group of women next to us received giant glasses of eggnog and asked for some of that, instead. The waitress said no, the eggnog was an alcoholic beverage. After pondering why anyone, much less an entire group of people, would need a giant alcoholic eggnog at seven o'clock on a weekday morning, we called back the waitress and asked if we could have eggnog without alcohol. Yes, we were told. We ordered eggnog, which came sans alcohol in tiny glasses rather than the hefty brandy snifters enjoyed by the drunks at the other table. When the check arrived we learned that you can order eggnog without alcohol at the Walnut Room, you can drink eggnog without alcohol at the Walnut Room, but you will pay for both eggnog and alcohol. Even after you talk to several people about it. That's the $6.50 eggnog I mentioned earlier in this letter.

I'll say this for you, however, Macy's: Thanks to the Walnut Room, our family now has a new catchword, a synonym for insanely overpriced items. We say "eggnog" and crack up. On the day of our Walnut Room visit, we enjoyed posing in front of the anti-Christmas Wedgwood tree and screaming "Eggnog!" at the camera. And from now on, the kids have agreed to go to Lou Mitchell's for breakfast. Even the Milk Duds there will be fresher than the crap you serve at the Walnut Room.

Many Happy Returns,

Cate Plys


Am I nuts, or have you also found the Walnut Room isn't all it's cracked up to be? Horror stories welcome. Open Letter is open to letters.


See who else Cate has written Open Letters to this year.


Posted on December 19, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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