Despite the ardor of the pursuit, there was no real love. Federated Department Stores (NYSE:FD) has announced that the 55-store Lord & Taylor chain it acquired when it bought the May Department Store franchise last year is being put up for sale. The former upscale temptress is being cast aside because it did not fit in with Federated's more pedestrian goals.

The Macy's name is being plastered on just about everything Federated acquired from May's, from Filene's to Burdine's and Marshall Field's to Kaufmann's. Focusing on a more upscale customer, Federated will also keep its Bloomingdale's stores operating for those who choose not to mingle with the great unwashed masses, letting a mid-market retailer like J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) cater to them instead. Lord & Taylor, even though it generated $1.5 billion in sales last year, was simply a doll without a date.

Part of the chain's problem was its stores' size, which, at an average of 110,000 square feet, was about half the size of a typical Macy's store. This isn't to say Lord & Taylor couldn't be the belle of someone's ball. Indeed, despite the small footprint, the stores are typically located in demographically desirable locations, and many of the worst-performing stores were closed down several years ago in an attempt to reinvigorate the chain.

There has been speculation that Saks (NYSE:SKS) or Neiman Marcus might be interested in acquiring the stores, but the former hardly seems the appropriate suitor, since it is engaged in divesting stores of its own, while the latter might find the chain to be not upscale enough for its own taste. Saks sold some 140 stores to Bon-Ton (NASDAQ:BONT) and its Proffit and McRae's chain to Belk last July. While Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) is always a possibility, it has a lot of overlap with Lord & Taylor, and that makes a purchase of the entire chain unlikely. Federated is seeking to sell Lord & Taylor whole, not divide the stores up into individual parcels.

That leaves various private-equity firms that have been known to buy distressed brands, spruce them up, and sell them again for a profit. Last year, private equity firms raised $151.8 billion, up 65% from 2004, according to the Dow Jones Private Equity Analyst. Preferably, these firms want businesses that generate high cash flows so that they can be highly leveraged.

Many retailers that have gone private have needed cash to make their turnarounds happen; the private equity firms provide the money to make the necessary improvements. Yet the firms will also be more willing to sell off properties to finance the deals, since the real estate is often more value than the cash generated by the retailer. Analysts expect Federated to earn between $800 million and $1 billion for the chain. Much of that will pay off the debt Federated assumed when it acquired May's properties.

Of course, one property that Federated will ensure does not get sold off to a competitor is Lord & Taylor's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The 611,000-square-footer stands near its own 2-million-square-foot Macy's on 34th Street. It would undoubtedly take a miracle for a sale to happen -- and it would result in a lot of love lost.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here.