Saturday, March 15, 2008

Live from Korvette City!

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to bring you this special report live from the “Korvette City” in Baileys Crossroads, (near Arlington) Virginia in the metropolitan Washington, DC area!

Live in 1965, that is. This special footage was sent to me by Robyn Carter, an Arlington native, retro retail and postwar culture fan. Filmed in 8mm color in 1965 by Robyn’s grandmother, Izola Grubb, this footage comes to us through the courtesy of Robyn’s aunt, Sue Kuhlman, who worked there during the store’s early years. The clip, (twenty seconds long but looped three times to provide a longer look) shows a pan shot of the entire face of this 1964-built “Korvette City”, an integrated shopping center containing a Food Center, furniture and carpet store, and a two-story department store. An auto center would have been at the edge of the property.

Mrs. Grubb, an avid 8mm moviemaker, shot a large number of reels of family film over the years, and one day decided to film the exterior of the store where her daughter Sue worked. Oh, that more people would have done that kind of thing, especially during that era when stores looked so cool! It’s a wonderful look at not only the store in its prime (on a very busy day, you will observe), but the cars and even a couple of happy shoppers. Thanks so much, Sue and Robyn, for sharing it with us!

A little background on the Baileys Crossroads Korvette – the store, located at 1335 Leesburg Pike, opened on April 30, 1964 and was the second Korvette to be opened in the metro DC area, the first having opened in Rockville, Maryland. A newspaper account of opening day at the Baileys Crossroads store describes a “day-long traffic jam" that "stretched bumper to bumper from Alexandria nearly to Seven Corners on Rte. 7 and from the Arlington County line to Lake Bancroft on Columbia Pike". Wow! The grand opening of most any shopping center was a major event in those fairly innocent times, but Korvette (despite the nagging emergence of operating and profitability problems and home office turmoil) still enjoyed a hugely positive reputation with the public. A Korvette opening was definitely front page news in 1964.

A year after this store’s opening, Korvette would merge with Long Island-based Hill’s supermarkets to help stem a growing management crisis, and the supermarket portion would be redubbed “Hill’s/Korvette”. Sadly, only a year after that, Korvette would sell off their supermarkets altogether, with the DC area units going to Food Fair. The furniture and carpet store would go not long afterwards, but the main department store and auto center soldiered on for several more years. Korvettes (there was an “s” at the end of the name by this time) began to close stores in the late 70's and folded entirely in 1980.

Robyn was kind enough to film for us the shopping center as it exists today, shown below. The main anchors of the storied old Korvette City are now TJ Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory, two chains that often find homes in classic old shopping centers.

More Korvettes information can be found here, or you can search by other topics at the right of the page.

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7 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing clip! Are there more clips possibly shot by this person? Very, very cool!!!

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  2. I love the film! That Korvette's looked exactly like the one in your past photos. So great to see this footage.

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  3. Pat - I'm not aware of any. I'll bet that there are a number of clips like this hidden in family 8mm films stashed in basements, attics, etc. It's always great when this kind of thing sees the light of day.

    Didi - I agree, and I was surprised how close it looks to the store in the artist's rendering pic from the first Korvette post I did.

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  4. I agree that there are probably thousands of clips stored away---I discovered some old Charlotte home movie clips (one that featured one of Charlotte's malls) last year and was thrilled. I would love to raid the vaults of the local TV news stations--I imagine there are cool clips there as well.

    Thanks again for this great post!

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  5. Korvette was iconic, and an innovator of its day, to be sure. If it hadn't fallen into an inescapable abyss like it did, I have a feeling it could have still been around today.

    Goes to show you, bad decisions can kill even the strongest companies, especially if they have to do with the quality of the goods sold.

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  6. Steven - Korvette fell to a rash of bad decisions, but cheapening the merchandise did the most damage, I agree. They had a great reputation and just tossed it.

    If you ever get a chance to read Isadore Barmash's history of Korvettes, it's all spelled out. Sad and entertaining at the same time.

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    1. I helped open the store as softgoods merchandise manager. April was a very rainy month and we had major problems getting the parking lot paved. Sunday paving didn't work because of bluelaws, and people living across from the store would call the police to stop the work.
      Columbia Pike, as mentioned, was backed up in both directions but it was only a two lane road. A lot of credit to the Fairfax County PD for traffic control those opening days.

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