Monday, February 25, 2008

The Signature of Sears

If you are around 30 years old or so, you probably have some good memories of shopping at Sears. If you’re over 40, chances are they’re great memories. The sights (and smells) of the Sears “experience” , if it may be called that – the “Karnival Korner” candy and popcorn stands, the smells from which permeated a large portion of the store, the toy department, bringing the Christmas “Wish Book” home (and making your Christmas list up from it), tagging along with your dad in the huge Craftsman tool department, buying new Perma-Prest clothes at the start of the school year – the memories go on and on for many of us. It all contributed to a kind of “homey” image for Sears when looking back on it.

The architectural design of many of these stores was anything but homey, however, and by the late fifties Sears began to receive a fair amount of recognition for their unique store designs. The first four photos are of a brand new Sears store in Tampa, Florida, as profiled in Architectural Forum in 1958. The article expounds on the “W-shaped sections” which compose the store’s roofline and the “shell-concrete folds, turned up at the edges” on the auto center. Interesting stuff!

Sears was set up at the time in five major regions, with regional headquarters in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas. While the interior layouts were standardized to a large extent within the A-B-C classifications and the basic size of the each store determined with the guidance of headquarters, the individual regions were given a great deal of autonomy in determining the exterior design (usually engaging high-profile architects from their region) and construction materials used for each store. This enabled the company to adapt each store’s appearance to the local area and made for a fascinating variety of looks when viewed in groups, as I plan to show over the next few posts.

Here is a link to a nice color postcard view of the Tampa store on Flickr, where the poster has provided some great history and current status for the store. Nice to know this one’s still standing and has been put to good use. Wish it was still a Sears, though.

Pictured below is a special addendum to the previous post, a great line drawing ad for the Roanoke, VA Sears Town (pictured in the last post)as published in a special book commemorating the city’s Diamond Jubilee in 1957. This ad appears courtesy of Steven Swain, Virginia native and author of two great blogs, LiveMalls, which features great mall photos and commentary and Steve’s Blog, where he covers a wide variety of topics, including retail. Steven worked on a redevelopment of the store some years back, and he gives us some great background info on the store which can be read in the comments section of the previous post. Thanks, Steven!


  1. GORGEOUS! STUNNING! So unlike Sears.

  2. No doubt about it, Didi, but they built several more nice ones in the sixties.

  3. So clean, so beautiful so UNIQUE!!!!!

    That store looks so high class, just check out that all glass storefront and that wavy roof! WOW!!!!!!

    What happened to Sears, I mean when did it gets so......boring??? and boxy, and windowless??? sigh.

  4. I've never seen a Sears like that before, or any department store for that matter. It was stunning for its time and it's innovative even today, though it's decidedly a little run-down today.

  5. That post brings back memories.

    I shopeed at this Sears store, on West Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, with my grandmother during the middle to late 1970s-- it was located near her house.

    Interestingly enough, the building still survives, as Hillsborough County Schools' Erwin Technical Center, a vocational school. Their website is

    The wavy roof of the building on West Hillsborough still fascinates and looks great! That architecture still rocks!

    Sears moved from this location to a mall in Tampa called Tampa Bay Center in the late 1970s. Funny enough, this Sears building on West Hillsbourgh outlasted the mall, which was torn down in the early 2000s to make way for the Tampa Bay Bucs' new training facility.

    That same Sears relocated again, to Westshore Plaza in Tampa.

    If only it were still in the store on West Hillsborough!

  6. Correction to my post: this Sears store/former Sears store is on East Hillsborough Avenue, not West Hillsborough Avenue!

    West Hillsborough Avenue wasn't so lucky!