Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Department Store Building of the, oh, whatever

Recently in Richmond, Va., driving on West Broad Street, I drove by what obviously was a former Sears, Roebuck & Co. store. Its identity was confirmed when I was close enough to see a symbol with "SR&Co." on the walls. I pass another old Sears store every day on the way to work.
Former purpose-built Sears stores can be problematic today because when Sears built a store before the Mall Era, it usually was on the edge of downtown or in a neighborhood. (Sears was a pioneer in recognizing the need for parking lots, and also usually had adjacent Farm Stores.) These tend to be in bigger markets; in your typical Anderson or Muncie, Sears just took over a store on the main street.
So their location may mean there's not much call to adapt them or tear them down for new downtown development. On the other hand, that means there are a lot of old department store buildings that exist largely unchanged. Bad for property development, good for nostalgia.
Old Sears stores usually have one or more of three characteristics: A tower, a "classical" style, or yellow or tan brick.
This one on Main Street in Hackensack, N.J., tends toward the Moderne. but it's got the tower and the brick. Best of all is the lettering on the tower, which resembes the logo inside the black circle that Sears used for years before going to the upper-and-lower "Sears" in a square box. I don't know if the tower has historic preservation status, but I hope so; I haven't seen that many old Sears stores, but I've never seen another like this.


Brian Cubbison said...

I've been curious about the history of certain stores, like the way Woolworth's 5 and dime became such a large part of American life, then built the world's tallest building, then disappeared, while Sears built the world's tallest building, then faded, while Kresge became Kmart, built a 40-acre headquarters, then faltered and merged with Sears.

And yet there are 99-cent stores in every town, still going, with no ambition to build the world's biggest building.

Anonymous said...


This building in Union City, N.J. was a Sears when I was a kid growing up in Jersey City.

(It's at Kennedy Blvd. and 32nd Street, Union City, N.J. if you want to GoogleMap it)

It's now a mini shopping plaza, with an Office Depot, a CVS, a Supercuts and a photo studio.

They've covered up a lot of the architecture with signs, billboards and other junk, but the tower is still there.