Moment 70: Campeau Gets Crazy

Hunger for acquisitions sent Robert Campeau, a developer with grand plans for malls, on a department store buying spree, a move that soon went bust.

Robert Campeau in 1988

Robert Campeau in 1988.

Photo By Ron Galella/Wireimage

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Robert Campeau, the eccentric Canadian developer, had a vision to reshape American retailing by buying up department stores and planting them in malls he would develop. Bloomingdale’s was his favorite, and it was the brand that fueled his hunger for acquisitions. Some of the biggest chief executive officers in retailing cozied up to him…and he pounced, buying Allied Stores first and Federated Department Stores not long after.

But after the buying spree, the vision melted. Campeau Corp. couldn’t service the debt behind the acquisitions and had no choice but to drag the two retail conglomerates into bankruptcy in January 1990, a fate unimaginable only a year or two before. WWD chronicled Campeau’s swift emergence on the U.S. retail scene, his quick decline and, in between, all the anxiety he created on Seventh Avenue about shipping to the Allied and Federated retail groups. Time and again, fashion executives expressed concerns that real estate moguls and financial executives had taken over, lamenting that the merchants had lost control.

It ultimately took the bankruptcy upheaval to put the merchants back in charge, though thousands of jobs and countless dollars would be lost. Ultimately, they supported Federated and Allied through the bankruptcy by shipping and keeping the retailers in business.