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Macy's fails to restore Burdines' old glory

I don't know, we're supposed to get excited about Macy's coming to town, at least in the hyphenated form. Burdines morphed into Burdines-Macy's on Friday. We're supposed to feel a little bit _ well, a big bit; Macy's is the world's largest store _ of New York has arrived here in River City.

Although I'm a former New Yorker, I didn't shop at Macy's when I lived there. I went to their Thanksgiving Day parade once. It was cold and rainy, but that wasn't their fault.

However, I did shop at Burdines after I moved to Florida. That was when Burdines was really Burdines _ before it was bought up by a retail conglomerate and, locally, merged with Maas Brothers. I'm still mourning that day.

Because in truth the old Burdines had class Macy's never had.

At the Burdines in west St. Petersburg, there was someone playing a baby grand piano near the escalator and at Christmas, a bell choir. It was a sophisticated place _ not like the dowdy Maas Brothers, which most locals preferred anyway, because it was, well, more local. Burdines was "The Florida Store," but "Florida" meant "Miami," where it originated, and that was good, because Miami had hipper taste than here, for sure.

Year after year, my daughter and I shopped at Burdines on Saturdays. The salesman in the shoe department remembered my size. There were cooking demonstrations on the second floor in housewares, and you could usually get a little bite of something good. The wrapping desk had the coolest paper. I still have a couple of rolls of black with bright yellow bananas I bought at half-off when it was discontinued.

When we moved to Tampa, I switched my allegiance to Burdines at Tampa Bay Center. It wasn't the same, of course, and in a few years it closed, but it had a gorgeous lingerie department and, near the entrance, a cart selling frozen yogurt _ and strawberries and granola, or M & Ms, to top it.

All that is long gone: the piano, the cooking demonstrations, the personal service, the frozen yogurt, the classy, sophisticated interiors. The Bucs will be running plays through the former West Tampa store. Today's Burdines has lost its individuality; it's a corporate amalgam of Burdines and Maas and whatever else, and now Macy's.

As for Macy's, the Miracle on 34th Street one, my experience is limited. The first time I went there, right after I moved to New York, I lost my roommate. A native New Yorker, she didn't see me around, so she just left. I looked and looked for her, because I really didn't know how to get home on the subway, and I didn't have money for a cab. The store was big all right, so big you could get lost in it, but in class it didn't rival my hometown Chicago's Marshall Field's.

One more trip, then I discovered Bloomingdale's. This was when Bloomingdale's was really Bloomingdale's. It was the only place to shop in New York. The store was so stunning you felt privileged just to be there. The saleswomen at the cosmetic counters were strikingly beautiful and the clothes the most fashion-forward in the city. I worked three blocks away and stalked the place at lunch, ready to pounce when things I liked moved to mark-down on the mezzanine. I wish I still had that great green and taupe long wool coat from Sweden or that dusky blue gaucho-pants suit. I remember everything I bought there, it was all so special.

Now Bloomingdale's has been bought up, too, and it's just another department store. It's no more New York than Macy's, which is no more New York than Burdines, except for the latter's palm tree logo. And that will probably go, too.

In the mail this week I received an extra 15 percent off pass, good all weekend, thank you very much Burdines-Macy's. I didn't wait but dropped in at the WestShore Plaza store Thursday afternoon. Maybe, just maybe, it would be different _ oh, not a lot, but maybe Macy's would inject a little new oomph.

"Burdines-Macy's Wow!" the hot pink and lime green signs greeted me.

Otherwise, not much was different. Oh, there are shopping carts, like at Target.

Sorry, no wow.

_ Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.