Entering the downtown Macy's the day before it closed for who knows exactly how long, one might think the store was already shut down for construction.

With only a few customers patronizing the store in one of its final post-Christmas days last Friday, Dec. 29, it was hard to imagine throngs returning next winter when it's scheduled to reopen.

Despite constant reassurance for a year that the downtown store would remain open during construction to revamp the 148-year-old landmark into a hotel/store, Macy's Northwest announced in early November the store's temporary closure.

Macy deemed closing the site necessary primarily to speed up the remodel process after falling behind schedule.

How long it will be closed remains uncertain. Macy's says vaguely that the closure Dec. 30 will run through something called "holiday 2007."

Despite a sunny Dec. 24 Oregonian editorial ("Miracle on Fifth Avenue") about the daily's largest advertiser, and despite constant assertions from Macy's headquarters that holiday sales were A-OK, it seems an obvious secondary reason for closing was due to customers avoiding the scaffolding and omnipresent jackhammering.

Going into the department store around lunchtime last Friday, Macy's was eerily void of customer-soothing Muzak and exuded a strong smell of Sheetrock. Only two elevators (the escalators were broken) were working. Add it up and it wasn't hard to understand why shoppers might avoid this landmark once known as Meier & Frank.

But many of those who did face the construction site seemed excited for the reopening and insisted they would come back.

"When they close, I plan on going to the mall—which I hate, I might add," says downtown worker Mary Schmerber, who shops at Macy's and plans to return when it reopens.

Macy's, a subsidiary of Federated Department Stores Inc., bought Meier & Frank in 2005 and officially changed the name of the store to Macy's this September.

It may seem like a strange decision to close a store only shortly after reopening it with a new name.

But Robert L. Bartlett, a California-based national retail industry consultant, says department stores are making a comeback, and Macy's should be largely unhurt by the temporary closure.

"When that store opens, people will be lined up to go to it," Bartlett says.

The store will reopen with six floors (including the long-vacant basement). But the hotel on the top levels isn't expected to finish construction until summer 2008, meaning those shoppers patient enough to wait for the Holiday 2007 reopening may still have to put up with construction noise for another six months.

"The store is going to be absolutely gorgeous," says Macy's spokeswoman Denise Hinton. "There are people that work downtown and come downtown just to shop—there is something about shopping downtown."

And something, apparently enduring, about finding your mixing bowl and three-piece suit in the same store.