One of the most significant keys to Sears’ success was the company’s ability to provide the appropriate size and type store for each community they did business in. General Wood, having successfully launched Sears’ initial entry into the retail store field, realized early on that a “one size fits all” approach wouldn’t work.
A strategy to develop three primary basic types of Sears stores was put in place. First there would be the “A” stores, termed by the company as “Complete Department Stores”. These stores were generally over 100,000 square feet and often approached 250,000 square feet, carrying the complete line of Sears merchandise. The A stores in the early postwar years were usually large, free-standing stores, with an auto center either attached or adjacent. As major shopping centers and large malls came into the picture in the 1950’s, the A stores were more often seen as part of those. The A stores were often of a more elaborate architectural design, especially in the very late fifties and throughout the sixties when a number of Sears store designs were strikingly impressive.
The second group, known of course as the “B” stores, were aptly called “Medium-Sized Department Stores”. The B category covered a wide range of store sizes, from footprints as small as 25,000 (or less) to the 100,000 square foot range. Here the merchandise mix varied widely as well, depending on local tastes, but usually with a strong emphasis on appliances and hard lines. This variance extended to the exterior design of the B stores. Many were as elaborate-looking as the A stores, while others were of more modest appearance. Like the A stores, most of the B’s were built as part of shopping centers or malls as the 1950’s rolled on. Some, not all, had auto centers. In the late 50’s, the “B-1” designation was created to differentiate the larger, more comprehensively stocked B stores.
The rationale for placing an A or a B store in a given location was often cut from a fine demographic cloth, and it was not at all uncommon for an A store to be placed in a major mall in a smaller town while a B store could be found in a smaller mall within a large city.
The “C” designation stood for “Smaller Hard Lines Stores”, and these primarily offered appliances, tools, sporting goods and automotive items. Far smaller than the other two store types, the C stores had much more of a plain “storefront” appearance and were typically found in urban street locations, rural downtown locations or in suburban strip shopping centers. A short-lived experiment in the 1970’s saw the addition of some clothing and soft lines to a handful of the larger, more remote C stores. These came to be known as “Z” stores. A small number of appliance-only “D” Stores existed for a time as well.
Most of these photos are from the 1958-59 timeframe. Top to bottom, the locations are: Memphis, Tennessee on Poplar Avenue (which is still a Sears), Ogden, UT, New Orleans, LA, Roanoke and Newport News, VA, Rockford, IL , Oklahoma City, OK (a bit older, circa 1955), St. Matthews (Louisville), KY (building still exists), and Fort Lauderdale, FL. I know that Memphis is an A store, Rockford and Louisville were B's. Roanoke and Newport News appear to be B's from the photos, the others I'm not certain of. The kicker for me in this group is the Memphis store. I made a great many business trips to Memphis in the early 90's, and the cool script logos were in place until at least 1995. Now replaced, of course. *Sigh*.
Speaking of Sears, and we were, my friend Didi has posted a couple of photos of a great old pre-1930 Sears store which amazingly is still operating on Chicago’s North Side. Her blog is entitled “Bright Lights, Dim Beauty of Chicago” and covers a great, eclectic variety of subjects. You don’t have to be from Chicago (like me) to enjoy it. Everywhere I go, I run into people who have a warm spot for the Windy City. Give it a click!