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Star-Spangled Retail

As merchants go, it's hard not to admire ... Lord & Taylor.

Lord & Taylor? The old-fashioned department store? The place for frumpy ladies who lunch and tea? The retailer that was basically sold for parts to financier Richard A. Baker back in 2006?

Yes, that Lord & Taylor. The Lord & Taylor that is today "bustling with shoppers, giving the chain its best sales figures in 15 years" (link here). The Lord & Taylor that got its magic back by selling off underperforming stores, ditching its mid-priced apparel and recruiting "more than 200 new upscale brands."

Part of this success is down to good timing. Lord & Taylor's revival was helped by its competitors, most of all Macy's, whose "decision to eliminate century-old local brands, like Marshall Feild's in Chicago, pushed shoppers into Lord & Taylor," where they were surprised and delighted by Lord & Taylor's makeover.

Lord & Taylor's comeback also came at a price, of course, and would not have happened were it not for a decision by its new owners to invest in the iconic brand and fully support its CEO, Jane Elfers. The retailer is planning to plow another $500 million into its comeback, calculating that the "over consolidation" of retail has "left many Americans rejecting the coast-to-coast sameness of Macy's in favor of something different."

But the coolest part of this story is about the one thing Lord & Taylor did not change: It still plays the Star Spangled Banner every morning before opening its aisles to its waiting customers (link here). This is a tradition dating back to 1979, and the Iran hostage crisis, when then-ceo Joseph E. Brooks started playing the anthem because , as he said at the time, "with all its problems, this is still the greatest country in the world."

Some shoppers think it's a little weird. Some people stand, while others sit; some sing along while others do not. However, for at least one shopper on a recent morning, the message was clear. As the final note was played she stage-whispered, "Play ball" and headed for the aisles.