Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's a Mad Mad Mad Shoppers World

Pandemonium has broken out in this 1962 grand opening view of a brand new Shoppers World discount store, which was located at 6211 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Shoppers World had a fairly fleeting tenure on the Chicago retailing scene, but in that time they managed to establish a decent presence in the city and select suburbs.

Shoppers World was founded in March 1956 with a single store by two ex-New Englanders, Alvin D. Star and Jerome Spier, both of whom worked as buyers for Boston’s legendary Filene’s department store chain. Eager to go into business on their own, they first considered opening a chain of ladies’ specialty stores, according to Robert Drew-Bear’s book Mass Merchandising. Upon visiting the super-successful Ann and Hope discount outlet in Cumberland, Rhode Island, they reset their sights on the world of discounting.

After scouting a number of locations in the greater Boston area, Star and Spier decided to pull up stakes and plant their flag in Chicago instead, where Star’s brother lived. The first store was opened at the intersection of Milwaukee, Foster and Central Avenues. Some months later, Shoppers World number two opened in Cicero, followed by a third store in 1958 in Melrose Park. By 1960, a Highland, Indiana store had been added along with two more Chicago locations.

The stores sold a mix of clothing, housewares and small appliances. In their early years, like a number of discount chains, including Korvettes, Shoppers World ran afoul of the era’s “fair trade” laws, which allowed manufacturers to set a floor below which prices of certain items could not be set. The company found itself blacklisted by a number of well-known vendors, but seemed to find a creative way around that, by setting up a special “wholesale” organization under a different name to buy from those vendors, then putting the items on sale in the Shoppers World stores. Fortunately for Shoppers World and the rest of the discount store chains, most fair trade laws went the way of the dinosaur by the early sixties.

In 1961, Star and Spier sold their six-store chain to Chicago-based Aldens, which was at the time the fourth largest catalog retailer in the United States. The new parent company invested heavily in Shoppers World, growing the chain to 14 stores (ranging from 40,000 to 120,000 square feet each). There were now stores in these Chicago suburbs as well - Mount Prospect, Niles, Oak Lawn, Chicago Heights and also in Gary, Indiana as well as downstate Decatur, Illinois and one store in more distant St. Paul, Minnesota.

Aldens itself was acquired at the close of 1964 by Gamble-Skogmo, Inc., owner of several retail chains -Gambles, Skogmos and Tempo, among others with most of their locations in America’s heartland, and Clark’s and Maclean’s in Canada.

The Shoppers World story wound down pretty quickly from there, with Gamble-Skogmo’s sale of the still 14-store strong chain in 1967 to Community Discount Stores, whose name the stores took on. The Lincoln Avenue store became a Zayre after Community’s demise, then a Kmart, according to my friend Chicago history blogger Didi. A Home Depot now sits on the site. I’m not sure where the second store pictured was located, but it might possibly be the last Shoppers World store, which opened at the corner of Fullerton and Narragansett Avenues in February 1965.

29 comments:

  1. I swear this blog is awesome. Great stuff!

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  2. It is very possible that the second photo is at Fullerton and Narragansette. I am going to have to ride my bike there sometime to see whether that could be it. The building has changed quite considerably since then and looks nothing like that but the size of it looks about right to me.

    What I have a hard time with is picturing the Foster, Central, Milwaukee location. I can see that intersection in my head but I cannot see where that Shopper's World could have been. Is the building still even there? Something tells me no.

    Of course the first photo is near my parents and looks amazing to see it the way it was when it was first built. If only this photo included the great old Lincoln Village across the street. The background though looks a bit bare although you can make out the sign of the Shell station which is still there! I got gas there last night out of desperation. Too bad the building nor the parking lot look anything like that today.

    Excellant work, Dave! I love the photos.

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  3. Richard - Thanks for the encouragement. It's a pleasure to do this knowing that people enjoy it. And I would say the same for the Viewliner as well!

    Didi - Thanks. I was pretty sure that was a Shell station in background. Must be a good location for them to have kept it all of these years.

    I looked up the Foster/Central/Milwaukee location on Windows Live Local. The one building I saw that might be a possibility was the current Family Dollar. Being the first Shoppers World, it may have been a lot smaller than the eventual average size for them, but who knows?

    With the Fullerton/Narragansett one, I looked it up and just can't tell from the WLL view. I haven't checked "Vintage Aerials" yet or whatever the site is called. I'm hoping someone will jump in and say "that's it!" or "no, it was this location!" :)

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  4. I am head over heels over that first Shopper's World pic! I've been wanting to see one for a long time! As for the second, I know for a fact that there is a building in St. Joseph, MO which, by the time I first saw it, housed a 1/2 Price Store (now it's Hastings Books), and has/had that very same building design to it. Upon checking an old 1966 back issue of the St. Joe newspaper, I found that it had indeed begun life as an Alden's Shopper's World.

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  5. I've been coming to this blog for months now, but haven't ever commented. Just wanted to say good work Dave, and I look forward to many more entries.

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  6. I went to the building today and took photos at the Fullerton one but I just can't tell either. My husband insists that the original Shopper's World/Community Discount Building was torn down at some point for the little plaza that is there now. I say it was a facadeectomy. Or maybe Black Squirrel is on to something and it was the location in St. Joseph, MO.

    As far as the Foster/Milwaukee/Central one I was thinking that it could be that Family Dollar. I have noticed that building before and always thought it has been a grocery store because of how small it is.

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  7. Black Squirrel - Glad you like the pics, and thanks very much for that piece of info on the St. Joe store! I like the Hastings stores.

    Chris - Thanks, and please keep stopping by!

    Didi - Thanks for checking it out for us. I found the aerial site (it's called historicaerials.com), and I have to agree with your husband. The current buiding is larger, and the distinct awning on the Shoppers World appears visible on the 1972 aerial photo.

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  8. (begrudingly) Now I have to tell him he was right all along. Man, I hate it when he's right. LOL!

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  9. Sorry about that, Didi! :)

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  10. The Shopper World/Community Family Center at 6800 Fullerton was fun to shop for toys.

    I remeber that it was torn down in the late 70's and replaced with the strip mall.

    The Community on Harlem near Lawrence was in bad shape by 1977. I worked at a gas station next to it [right before self serve gas], and the store was a mess. My friends and I made fun of it to pass time.

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  11. Tomcat - I don't remember Shoppers World from personal experience, although my folks probably dragged me in there when I was young. We had one near Randhurst. The Community stores I do remember as being kind of tacky.

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  12. I grew up right near Milwaukee and Central. The Shoppers World was actually 2 stores. The main store was where the parking lot is for the Family Dollar store and part of the current store. The annex of the Shoppers World was in the building occupied by the Blue Angel restaurant.

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  13. Anonymous - That would explain what appears to be two entrances. Thanks very much!

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  14. There was a Shoppers World near the intersection of 55th and Cicero, now occupied by Midway Airport and the el station. It evolved into a Community and later, a Zayres.

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  15. Anonymous - Thanks very much for the background on that location!

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  16. I was a security supervisor in many of the stores from 61-65..Great times,fun job,great crew of guys..Lots of part time police officers working security.Thanks for the site and the memories...

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    1. I was also a security Supervisor at the 6211 n Lincoln store and other stores ( GARY IND & MILWAUKEE AVE ALSO) 61-65..My first names Irv.

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  17. Anonymous - Thank you for sharing - These stores look they would have been great fun in those days!

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  18. Dave-I just discovered your blog today. Lots of awesome stuff here!

    I think this photo dates back to 1962. The license plates clearly visible in the foreground appear to be orange in color, which Illinois used for the year 1962.

    Until 1979. Illinois issued yearly plates for all vehicles. Therefore, if one knows the color of a plate in a photo, you can pinpoint when it was taken.

    BTW, Ill plates were red with white print in 61,green w/yellow print in '63 & purple with white print in '64.

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  19. To the north of SHopper's World at Fullerton and Narragansett was Thunder Mountain, an ill-fated ski resort. The "mountain" was created by the city dumping the debris from the construction of the Kennedy Expressay in the late 50's.
    Next to Shopper's World ( Community ) was a Firestone tire store, and the other side had a Hillman's grocery store. I remeber Community being one of the most cluttered, unorganized stores I'd ever been in, even as a kid. People would test spray paint on the floors, but the cafeteria always had a great greasy cheeseburger! School shoes and bell bottom pants from Community.....Great memories!

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  20. Anyone remember the Community Discount Store on East 87th St.on the far southside?

    It had a unique neon sign with two prominent spires and a small beacon atop the highest one
    The beacon would be activated by store staff so that local cabbies on 87th knew someone at the store needed a lift home.

    I would love to see an old image of that sign. It's been long gone gone since about 1999, however.

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  21. Wonderful pictures! Thanks.

    I worked at the Cicero store stocking shelves before it opened and as a cashier after it opened. I was a high school student and I'm a bit fuzzy on the year but I do know it had to open in 1961 or 1962. I graduated in 1964.

    As for Midway, it existed LONG before Shoppers World. Shoppers World was further south.

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    1. Incredible blog, Dave!

      Anonymous, you are correct that there was a Shoppers World further south on the east side of Cicero Ave, south of 95th. There was another Shoppers World across from Midway on Cicero Ave and 55th. I believe that is the blue/purple storefront depicted above. The Narraganset/Fullerton store was on a hill and I recall the archecture as being more similar to the Lincoln/McCormick store. The lot in the photo appears to be flat. The Cicero/55th store had an A&P attached, which would have been just out of range to the right of the photo.

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  22. Anonymous - Thanks, and glad this helped bring back some good memories!

    And yes, I believe that Midway airport goes back to at least the 1930's, long before these stores saw the light of day.

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  23. Does anyone know the location of the Shoppers World in the Cicero/Berwyn area was. Somewhere on Cermak Road (22nd St.), a friendly debate at work, just trying to narrow it down.
    Thanks,
    Ed

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  24. Ed - It was located at 5940 W. Cermak, (corner of Austin Blvd.), across from Central Federal Savings. A Walgreens sits there now. If you're from the Berwyn/Cicero area, stay tuned over the next couple of weeks, I'm working on something you may like!

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  25. The pic of the Lincoln & Devon Shoppers World is from August 15, 1962. Two other locations opened that day at 10:00 a.m. as well, Midway Airport (5601 S Cicero) and Mount Prospect (201 W. Rand Road). According to an ad in the Tribune:
    $1,000 dollars cash
    From the sky 9:45 a.m.
    Wednesday August 15th
    Over all three new stores
    Yes Mam' and Yes Sir! We are dropping cash from the sky...$1,000 at each store. Just pick it up! A helicopter will drop 10,000 snowballs, some will be worth from $1.00 to $1,000 in CASH. Be there!At any one of our new stores...SCOOP UP CASH!

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  26. I worked at the Shopper's World/Community Discount store on North Avenue just west past River Road. Kitty-corner was Maywood Park Race Track, and Kiddie Land was just to the east. Polk Brother's Furniture was at North and First Avenue.

    My brother & I worked for Rand Pool & Patio, which leased the patio departments in half-a-dozen Community Discount Stores, Kresge's, and the mothership out on Rand Road near Mannheim.

    The Community Discount on North still had all the Shopper's World signage on it when we left (he continued on with Kresge for a while, I went to college), and eventually the site was bought for an expansion of Gottlieb Hospital.

    I visited this site following a link for Cermak Plaza (a mile from my parents' house) and when I saw a link for Community, I knew I had to dig deeper! Thanks!

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  27. I'm Michael from the Niles Historical Museum, in Niles, IL. Would you have any pictures of the Shoppers World Niles store?

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