By the late 19th century, independently owned and operated department stores had been established in all the major cities across the nation. The next logical step, it seemed, was to create so-called "holding companies", which would exist only to own outstanding stock in a number of these mercantiles.

Several different store operations, in various cities and states, could be overseen in this manner. This reduced the risks associated with retailing in general and made expansions into other markets feasible and much less expensive.

By the mid-20th century, there were seven massive merchandising holding companies in operation in the United States. By the 1980s, changes in the retail industry began to effect the operation of these companies...with several tumultuous corporate buyouts and reorganizations taking place over the ensuing years.

It started when Canadian financier Robert Campeau completed a hostile takeover of Allied Stores, in November 1986. Meanwhile, executives at Macy's arranged a buyout of that company. Following this, they fought a bitter battle with Campeau for Federated Stores. Campeau emerged victorious in April 1988.

Unfortunately, debt obligations for Campeau's series of takeovers were too large to be covered. The end result was that two hundred and fifty profitable department store divisions had been bankrupted.

Campeau was ousted from Federated Stores in August 1990. The board then went about picking up the proverbial pieces and putting the company back into solvency. Macy's filed for bankruptcy in 1992. Federated Stores acquired the struggling Macy's chain in January 1994.

Federated embarked on a massive department store rebranding campaign on August 1, 2003. During the first stage, known as Project Hyphen, several store nameplates had a "-Macy's" added; examples being "Burdines-Macy's", "Bon-Macy's", "Rich's-Macy's" and "Lazarus-Macy's".

Project Star completed this process on March 6, 2005. The -Macy's subheading was dropped. All store divisions would be known, henceforth, as simply Macy's.

In August 2005, Federated acquired its primary competitor, May Department Stores, taking in regional divisions such as Famous-Barr, Kaufmann's, Hecht's and Meier & Frank. Chicago's veritable Marshall Field & Company had been bounced between several owners by this time. First there had been BATUS (British-American Tobacco), in 1982, the Dayton-Hudson (later Target) Corporation in 1990 and May Department Stores in 2004.

As a result of the Federated-May merger of 2005, May stores received Macy's nameplates on September 9, 2006. Alas, there was just one major department store holding company left; Federated Stores, which morphed into Macy's Inc. on June 1, 2007. Today, the eight division organization oversees the operation of over seven hundred stores in forty-six states. There are also Macy's stores in Washington, DC, Guam and Puerto Rico.

In the following section is a list of the seven major merchandising holding companies and some of the regional stores that they contained under their corporate umbrellas. In brackets [ ] are the years that said stores were created or acquired. In italic are the founding member stores of each holding company.