Thursday, October 30, 2008

You're the Topps, Baby!

The sixties were the golden age of many things, depending upon your perspective. Rock and roll music, television, movies, sports, comics, cars, the suburbs, malls, you name it – if it existed during that tumultuous time, there are legions of folks who will claim that decade as the peak of the form, whether they actually lived during that time or not. To me, the sixties were definitely the golden age of the discount store, and the Interstate Stores banners, Topps and White Front, were among the most interesting of the bunch. In the Chicago suburbs, where I grew up, Topps was a fast-growing player in those years.

The first Topps “Discount City” was opened on October 15, 1956, in Hartford, Connecticut. Founded by Frank Beckerman and Selwyn Lemchen, the company’s initial slogan was “Profits in Pennies”. The company grew steadily in its early years, adding stores in West Haven, Middletown and Fairfield, Connecticut, Springfield, Massachusetts, Albany, New York and in far-flung Chicago, among others, by the beginning of 1960. Soon afterward, the Hartford store was replaced with a larger unit and a new Topps opened in Berlin, Connecticut. By the fall of 1960 there were ten stores in the chain.

The Topps stores averaged 60,000 square feet and proudly claimed “more than 100 departments”, running the gamut from housewares, baby furniture, auto accessories, sporting goods, shoes, records and toys to all manner of clothes for the whole family. That wonderful discount store oasis, the snack bar/cafeteria, was featured in every store.

Topps’ growth and success coalesced with a successful experiment that New York City-based Interstate Department Stores was conducting at the time. A staid, traditional chain of medium-sized department stores whose history dated back to 1916, Interstate had 47 old-line department stores in 1958 when it leased an old textile mill in Copley, Pennsylvania and equipped it with sales counters, shelves and garment racks, opening it for business as a discount store operation - the company’s first. When the Copley store racked up two million dollars in sales against only $12,000 in rent expense that first year, Interstate soon realized which side its bread would be buttered on.

Among Interstate’s top management, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Copley project was Sol W. Cantor. Described in the New York Times as a “lean, intense retailer…well schooled in the traditional department-store business”, Cantor, who would soon be named company president, forcefully led the charge into the discounting arena. In 1959, Interstate bought out White Front Stores, a 30 year old Los Angeles firm with only two stores but an impressive $20 million in annual sales. By 1966, Interstate would open 20 new White Front Stores was looking towards expansion to San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.

A year later, in September 1960, Topps Department Stores, Inc. was acquired by Interstate Stores at a cost of $ 4 million. Interstate now had footholds in several Eastern states and the Chicago area to go along with their newly acquired Los Angeles territory. Over the next six years, as the Times reported, Interstate would open 35 new Topps stores, increasing the average square footage per store from 60,000 to over 80,000 square feet.

One important change in the Topps stores under Interstate’s ownership was in the merchandise mix. Heavily weighted towards softlines (clothing, linens, etc.), Interstate introduced appliances, automotive supplies, sporting goods and other lines until the softlines/hardlines mix approached 50%. White Front, whose reputation was heavily built on appliance sales (in the early 1960’s, the Interstate organization was General Electric’s largest appliance customer on the west coast, and was Admiral’s largest customer altogether), required an opposite strategy - the new White Front stores featured extensive clothing lines for the first time, although hardlines would continue to dominate there.

Most of the new Topps stores were opened in partnership with supermarkets to maximize their customer drawing power. Several of the Connecticut Topps stores, for example, opened up with Food Mart stores riding shotgun. Food Mart was an independent chain based in Holyoke, Massachusetts and founded in 1949 by Frank Castaldo. In the Chicago area, the Topps stores were paired with National Food Stores. National Tea Company, founded in 1899, had long been a leader in the Chicago grocery market.

Topps continued to expand into new markets and to beef up their existing ones as the sixties progressed. In August 1962, for example, three Topps stores were opened in the Cleveland area in a single day. The same year, 1962, saw Topps grow to eight stores in Chicagoland - Waukegan, Rolling Meadows, Niles, La Grange, Joliet, Chicago Heights, Highland (Indiana) and Addison. My family shopped occasionally at the Rolling Meadows store, which was paired with a National Food Store. The combination was called a “Topps-National Super City”.

By 1968, Interstate had 60 Topps stores, along with 28 White Front units, 32 traditional department stores (these were being slowly phased out by this time) and 8 toy superstores. The previous year, Interstate had bought out the Washington D.C. –based Children’s Supermart chain, the forerunner to Toys "R" Us. Around that time, (now company chairman) Sol Cantor, noting that it had taken Interstate 38 years to reach the half billion annual sales mark, boldly predicted that the next half billion would only take 5 years – in effect, Interstate would be a billion dollar company by 1972.

It wasn’t to be. The early seventies provided a rude awakening for many discount chains, and Interstate’s stores, Topps in particular, suffered some of the worst hits. In 1971, 10 Topps stores were closed, including three Columbus, Ohio units that were sold off to Gray Drug. The combination of rising costs and increased competition continued to take its toll, and by 1972, the company began to post substantial losses. Plans were announced to close an estimated 14 White Front stores that year. A 1972 Los Angeles Times article quoted a stock market analyst who assessed the company’s troubles as saying “improved merchandising at the discount department stores appears necessary for meaningful profits”. Interstate chose instead to close more stores. By 1973, 19 Topps stores and 19 White Front stores were closed. “Profits in pennies” would have looked good at that point.

In early 1974, having posted a $60 million loss the previous year, Interstate pursued an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the variety and discount stores owned by McCrory Corporation. McCrory’s stores were profitable and had a net value of $120 million, which would have offset Interstate’s losses. With the McCrory opportunity gone, Interstate filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, hoping to reorganize. Unable to obtain further credit from their suppliers to continue stocking the stores, the US Government soon forced the company into Chapter 10 receivership. Forty-one 41 Topps stores were closed by that time, and Interstate announced the immediate closing of 11 more Topps stores, with the remaining 9 to be closed “in due course”. Plans were already underway to sell the remaining White Front stores. Company chairman Sol Cantor resigned, and a trustee was appointed to oversee the liquidation process and to ensure the viability of Interstate’s remaining golden asset, Toys “R” Us. Eventually Toys “R” Us founder Charles Lazarus would take charge of the company (which emerged from bankruptcy in Spring 1978 and was renamed Toys “R” Us Corp.), leading it to success far beyond anything Interstate had ever known previously.

We didn’t shop there often, but one memory stands out, dating from around 1973 or so. One evening my dad, brother and I were shopping at the Rolling Meadows Topps store. The store was near empty (not surprising given the state of the company at the time), and in the main aisle stood a bearded, rumpled, outdoors-type dude of about thirty years of age, standing all alone next to a table with a stack of slim hardcover books on it. It was a book signing, at Topps, of all places! It turns out he had written a book of poetry, and just asked the store manager if he could sell his books there (anything to build traffic, I guess). Upon closer examination, the books themselves looked a bit rumpled as well, and the author launched into an explanation about a canoe trip he had recently taken, with a case of his books onboard (he didn’t explain that part). The canoe capsized, soaking the case of books. The guy’s story was so offbeat, my dad actually bought one of his books!

The first five photos, an exterior and four inside shots date from 1967, the remaining two color shots, including “The Scene” (Here come da judge, baby!) are circa 1970. The black-and-white photo above is of a Baltimore Topps store from 1967, very similar in appearance to the store in the first photo. Pictured below are a new Topps store which opened in 1962 at 467 Main St., East Hartford, Connecticut, and a circa-1960 Chicago area Topps coupled with a National Food Store.

74 comments:

  1. This is one great blog. Don't know what else to say, except Thanks.

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  2. Do you know the address of the Baltimore Topps? The building looks familiar to me.

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  3. Those Topps pic are just great!

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  4. Topps didn't pair with super markets in Cleveland, although the Mayfield Heights store was divided into a Fazio's super market and a furniture store. Only the Willoughby store (the last they opened in Cleveland in the 70s) had a super market nearby, a high-endish local independent.

    They stores in Columbus would have been converted to Rink's, the discount chain owned by Gray Drug.

    Has anyone come with a reason that the early/mid-70s were such a bad time for discounters? Was it the roll-out of K-Mart? The emergence of strong operators like Target? The growth of catalog showrooms (the 70s was their heyday and they took a lot of small appliance biz from discounters? Something else?

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  5. Very interesting stuff, Dave! Topps was of course well before my time, and not even in my state as it appears, but nevertheless it is interesting to learn about these different chains and their history. Thanks!

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  6. I love the outdated use of some words. You never hear the words Discount City anymore. Someone should write a book about obselete retail linguistics and the meanings behind it.

    BTW, thanks for this wodnerful post, Dave. I had come across Topp's in the Chicago area long ago through old newspaper articles and wondered what they were. Never really understood that they had such a rich history.

    I also love the lamps in that one photo.

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  7. Wow! I am really having a flashback! I remember going to Topps with my Mom and brothers in tow every Friday night after hitting the National food store. I am not sure if they were together where I grew up, in Joliet, but I remember the Topps! You continue to have some really great material! I love reading your blog. Again I thank you for all the great memories. :)

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  8. Some years ago, I saw a photo of a Topps/National center and always wondered about the type store it was and where it was. I knew that the Loblaws division had competed with Tops in Buffalo, and knew the store had to be unrelated to Tops.
    The shopping center setup looked like National was in tandem with Topps like some of the early discount store/supermarket arrangements of the 60s-early70s. It's too bad I don't know where I saw the photo because someone familiar with Chicagoland might be able to identify the location. I believe the picture was circa 1967 and I am almost positive it was bannered Topps National as if it were one store.

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  9. That B&W photo would have to have been taken in Niles at Halem & Dempster.

    Later on the National would become a Le Wards and Topps would be home to Sportmart.

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  10. I forgot to ask, what happened to the book of poetry? Anyone famous?

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  11. Richard - It's an honor, and thanks again. And I'm a big fan of (both of) yours!

    Veg-O-Matic - Unfortunately I don't. Maybe someone can help us out with the address info.

    David - I agree, and am glad you like them.

    Anonymous - Thanks for that background info on the Cleveland and Columbus stores!

    As far the early 70's economic environment, I would agree with the theories you've posed. Kmart was a real freight train at that time. Target was less of a factor until the next decade, when they were able to take advantage of the demise of some other chains. A lot of companies tried the catalog route, and it turned out to be a disaster for most. I think another big factor was the US economy of the time. 1971 was the first year that inflation was a problem,and it only got worse from there. President Nixon installed wage and price controls in late '71 (companies couldn't increase wages or raise prices for a 90-day period), and it wreaked havoc with the laws of supply and demand.

    Kendra - Thanks, and I'm glad you like the stuff! I agree it's one of the more interesting chains, fun and very different from today. To my knowledge, Topps didn't have stores in Maine.

    Didi - I like the quaint old phrases as well. Wal-Mart was another one that used "Discount City", but they scrapped it before they expanded to many northern markets.

    The "Tiffany-look" lamps were all the rage in the late 60's and early 70's. It seemed like thye were everywhere!

    Kim - Thank you, and I'm glad this brought back some good memories for you! That's what I hope to do with every post. It's amazing how the memories flow from what seemed routine (weekly shopping stops, for example) while it was actually taking place.

    Ken -You're right, this chain is different from the Tops grocery firm. Some Topps/Nationals had a single concourse, while others had completely separate entrances. The example you cite with the Topps and National appearing to be the name of a single store is exactly what I remember from the Rolling Meadows store I cited in the post. Man, would I love to have a photo of that!

    Mike - It is the Harlem/Dempster store, opened in 1960. It shred a concourse between the Sav-Mor, National and Topps stores. In 1964, the stores (I don't know about the Sav-Mor) were relocated to a larger building across the street to the Morton Grove side. Thanks!

    Didi - Not that I remember, lol! I probably last saw that book a year after he bought it. I kind of doubt the writer became famous, but who knows?

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  12. Here's a former Topps/Rink's store with the existing canopies:

    http://tinyurl.com/5qyh8a

    3900 Sullivant Ave.
    Columbus, Ohio

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  13. The Save-Mor I think existed there untill the 80 at least.

    The minute I reconized that I knew where this was.

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  14. They stores in Columbus would have been converted to Rink's, the discount chain owned by Gray Drug.

    Topp's may not have "paired" with grocery stores per se, but 2 of the 3 ex-Topps stores here were located adjacent to A&P stores predating Topps. Another new-build Rink's store also had an A&P located in the same building.

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  15. I remember going to the Addison, IL Topps for toys. Across the street (North Ave.) was another big discount store - Big R, I believe. Just east of that store was where I remember seeing Dick Portillo's original hot dog stand. Since I live in that area now, where the Rolling Meadows Topps was located? Great blog, Dave!

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  16. I remember the store in Middletown Connecticut. Great store and it was next to Food Fair Supermarket

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  17. Anonymous - Thanks for that gret photo link! Wow, that store is a dead-on match for the one in the first photo I have here. very well preserved!

    Mike - Thanks, and that's longer than I would have expected for the Sav-Mor.

    Anonymous - They did pair deliberately in some markets, but certainly not all.

    Carl - Thanks very much! I'm a huge Portillo's fan, and try to eat at one every time I'm in town. A photo of the famous first store - "The Dog House" has place of honor on the wall of weach Portillo's, as I'm sure you know.

    The Topps store was located at the corner of Kirchoff and Meadow, kitty corner from the Jewel-Osco. It was later a Woolco, then a Butera, then a Dominick's, and is now vacant, I believe.

    Anonymous - That was one of the first Food Fairs in CT. Thanks for writing!

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  18. Topps had about four stores in Louisville from about 1969-1974, all of which looked like the top photo. The one nearest our house on Dixie Highway was always as neat as a pin but was nearly always devoid of customers. I liked going in high school and college to look through their bins of LPs for 50c or $1.

    Other discount stores in Louisville in the 60s and 70s included Woolco, Zayre, K-Mart, Arlan's (by far the best place for cheap LPs and the bottommost basement of all discount chains), Almart, Ayr-Way (from retailer LS Ayre's of Indianoplis), Consolidated Sales Corporation (extremely popular for at least a decade) and Grant City (which only lasted about a year). One of the most notorious stores was Family Fair, an anchor of the disastrous Algonquin Manor Shopping Center. Around 1966, Family Fair blew up due to a gas leak in the garden center. The only thing left was the steel framework. It was never rebuilt. Also in Louisville were a few Rose's stores but they were Grant-sized. Some rural stores were like small K-Marts. GC Murphy had dime stores for years in Louisville but there no Murphy's Marts.

    Other discount chains in Kentucky not found in Louisville were Big K, Mr. Wiggs and Gold Circle.

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  19. Related to Topps, I can recall the White Front Locations in Northern California and many have been used for many retailers that have come and gone over the years! The most memorable was the San Francisco store on Potrero Hill...the arch was still intact until the late 1980's. Other location cities, South San Francisco, San Carlos, San Jose(Almaden), Oakland, Newark, Concord (i'll note more if I can remember!!) Many of the vacant buildings became JC Penneys discount chain "The Treasury" in the mid 1970's

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  20. Scott - Thanks for that great background on the Louisville store scene! It's amazing how important the record departments of these store were to us. The two chains in your list I hadn't heard of are Mr. Wiggs and Family Fair. It's sad how all but Kmart are gone, and it's barely hanging on. Time sure changes things!

    Mr. Bluelight - It does seem that many of the White Fronts have been home to many other chains. It's too bad that White Front's decline was already underway when many of the NorCal stores were just opening. Some were open less than a year, I believe.

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  21. Dave I have not been able to find any information about Family Fair. Algonquin Manor opened in a fringe area -- the speculation was that the area was on the way up. It wasn't. It had a huge, impressive bowling alley with lanes on both sides totaling about 70. The shopping center has been converted to warehouse space. I think there might have been a second Family Fair in another part of the city but I'm not sure.

    For years Arlan's original store in Louisville was in a converted tobacco warehouse. Towards the end, the company tried to become hip and hired a design team which came up with murals of shoppers in silhouette painted on the sides of the stores inside and out. Until recently the tobacco warehouse Arlan's mural was still visible, which I always said looked like the shadows of victims of a nuclear blast. Arlan's record bins were legend -- most were 3/$1. That is the root of my fondness for the old discount stores -- my record collection expanded by leaps and bounds when I was in college and had very little money.

    Arlan's is famous for another reason in Louisville. They challenged the city's blue laws, which were eventually overturned. If you're interested, there is an Arlan's Department Store annual report for sale on ebay presently.

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  22. Scott - I guess it stands to reason that the Louisville Arlan's was a converted tobacco warehouse -an interesting reuse! And you couldn't beat the 3 for $1 deal, that's for sure. I'm guessing that Family Fair was a family-owned business.

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  23. Topps was in Rochester, NY too. Their first store was one of those discount store-supermarket combos in the suburb of Irondequoit. It was teamed up with the local powerhouse, Wegmans. The store closed, and subsequently, so did the Wegmans there.

    They also were the anchor of a shopping center at the intersection of Routes 252 and 15-A in suburban Henrietta. The center was called Topps Henrietta Plaza, and it opened circa 1968-1969. It looked like the prototype pictures with the lighted marquee and the stone front. It remained empty for many years after it closed. In the 1980s, a Zayre store(and later converted to Ames) moved in there. Today, it has been split into several stores, including a Guitar Center, Office Depot, and Big Lots.

    There was also a location in suburban Greece, at the corner of Mt. Read Boulevard and Route 104. It remained empty for several years. For about 15 years, it was a roller skating rink called Skate-USA. In the late 1990s, the building was demolished, and a Hom,e Depot now sits on that site. It, too, looked like the pictures in the blog.

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  24. Anoymous - Thanks for those great notes on the NY Topps stores. I would love to have seen the Topps/Wegmans combination in particular.

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  25. Hi There,

    This was awesome to see! We had a Topps in my hometown and I remember shopping there. I really wish you had pictures of that particular store. It was in Kenosha Wisconsin. When Topps went out of business the building stood empty for awhile and then a movie theater, game room, and some stores and restaurants were put in the original building...of course with quite a bit of renovations. It was the Market Square theaters and there were 2 screens. If I remember right that was the only part of the building opened at first along with the game room and the rest was closed off for years until some other shops and such came in.
    Well thanks again for posting these pictures. It was fun to stroll down memory lane!

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  26. Anonymous - Thanks very much, and glad you liked it! And thanks for those great details on the fate of the Kenosha Topps. They really were interesting stores!

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  27. Does anyone have an exterior photo taken of the Topps- Henrietta Plaza in Henrietta, NY from the late 1960's - early 1970's. I remember the parking lot lights in the plaza at that time looked like saucers with red tops. I would love to see a vintage photo of that particular plaza if anyone has one?

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  28. I am just floored... FLOORED. I lived a block away from the Topps store in Kenosha, WI. I was too young to really remember much about it (I was born in 1970 and it closed in probably 1974) except for the boarded up windows and doors and the signs on the building. I remember its distinctive sign, however, which had been removed but the frame still remained. I wish someone had a picture of it I could see!

    Anyway, I wish Topps had hung on because it would have been nice to have a store like that just a bike ride away from home... but it wasn't meant to be. Topps remained closed for over 10 years before the store was finally sold and re-opened as the Old Market Square Mall. Today the building still stands (and still looks very much like an old Topps) but is in use as a job training center for the city. At least it's still there!!! Thanks for this fantastic blog!!!

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  29. Dave, related to my comment above about the Kenosha, WI Topps, I found these photos and a write-up about its second incarnation, Old Market Square Mall at this location: http://storesforever.blogspot.com/2008/07/old-market-square-kenosha-wi.html You can see that the building was-- and still is-- remarkably preserved over the years!

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  30. Rick - Thanks so much! I hope one of these days I will be able to come with a picture of a free-standing Topps sign. Those Old Market Square photos are great - it's amazing how many stores that John (from the Stores forever blog) photographed back in the day. Great stuff. Thanks again!

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  31. I don't think I ever actually saw a Topps; they weren't around the NYC area, and I didn't venture into areas where they were until after they were gone. Do you know if any of the CT Topps became a Caldor or Bradlees?

    After seeing the photo of the East Hartford, CT Topps, I became curious and did some snooping on Google Maps and Bing. It appears it became a Coca-Cola Bottling plant. Not sure if they used any of the original building.

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  32. Jeffrey - At least one of them became a Bradlees - the Topps in Fairfield, CT, according to a Bridgeport Telegram article I looked up. I'm pretty sure there were others.

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  33. Just though I wouldlet you know how much I enjoyed the picks- Frank Beckerman was my grandfather and I had always heard about the store but this is the first time i had ever seen any of them!

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  34. Anonymous - Thanks, and glad you liked the pictures - Topps had very cool-looking stores. It's always great to hear from family members of the founders of these great chains!

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  35. My biggest memory of TOPPS store was around 1966-67 when Ed Kranepool of the NEW YORK METS was at the store for some type of promotion. Being the last boy there, at the end of his appearance, I was allowed to walk with him to his car after getting his autograph on of all things a Topps baseball card. GC DIllon

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  36. Gregory - What a cool memory! Somehow, I just don't see the kids of today being to tell a similar story of a meeting a current baseball star at Wal-Mart (or any other store, for that matter). Speaks volumes about the changes in retail and even more about the approachability of sports stars today. Thanks!

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  37. I love reading about the history of Topps and other discounters. I don't believe we ever had a location in the Cincinnati area. We did have 3 Arlans stores that lasted until that chains demise as well as many Zayre stores. Rinks got it's start in Cincinnati before being sold to Gray Drugs in the 1960's. We also had Ontario's, a division of Cleveland's Cook United, which eventually purchased Rinks from Gray, giving the chain mass locations in Cincinnati. While Atlantic Mills, Shoppers Fair, Spartan, Kings, GEM and Woolco had stores in Ohio, none ever opened in Cincinnati. A Woolco store was planned in the northern burbs near Tri-County Mall in the early 1970's, but it was never built....Gold Circle was built on the land instead. I am thinking Gold Circle's planned entrance scared Woolco off as I am sure they took a lot of business away from them in both of their home market of Columbus, Ohio. The 76 store Gold Circle chain closed in 1988, and I still miss it to this day. They were all large 100,000 sq ft upscale discount stores. The nicest in the area.

    A poster mentioned a store called "Family Fair" in Louisville and that he couldn't find any information about it. Ironically, it was owned by Interstate Department Stores, the owner of Topps and White Front. This was a chain of discount stores they started from scratch in 1959, the same year they bought White Front on the west coast. I believe once they purchased Topps, they eventually phased it out. I have a listing of all discount stores in operation as of October, 1962... their locations and owners. Family Fair had 5 stores and none planned for 1963. The 5 were located in Toledo, Louisville and Canton(Ohio). By contrast, in Oct. 1962 there were 26 Topps and 9 were planned for 1963 as well as 5 White Front stores and 6 planned for 1963. In Toledo, the Family Fair was 75,000. The first Topps there, to open in 1963, was to be 100,000. In Canton, Ohio, the Family Fair was 50,000. It sounds like Topps were much larger and successful stores.

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  38. Thanks for jogging a few of my memories about the Addison, IL. Topps. My family moved to Carol Stream, IL. in 1966 and at that time, the Topps in Addison (along with the Big R across the street) was some of the nearest major retail in the area. Also, North Avenue was the most direct connection to the Eisenhower Expressway, so we were always driving by there to visit relatives closer in to the city.

    Does anyone remember when the Addison Topps burned down? The store was heavily damaged by a fire sometime in the late 60s. I can't remember the exact year. The building was quickly rebuilt and the store reopened. I don't have any clear memories of the store before the fire, but I do remember after it reopened that fire prevention was clearly on their minds with 'No Smoking' signs and fire extinguishers clearly visible all over the store.

    I recall it wasn't too many years after the Addison Topps was rebuilt that the store was closed. The building is still there. For many years, it has housed a Syms - a discount clothing outlet.

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  39. Steve - Thanks for that gret infomation on the Cincinnati area discounters. Many people have mentioned how great the Gold Circle stores were. I hope to be able to dig up enough information to write about them here on the site one of these days, I think it would be well received.

    And I had heard of Family Fair, but was unaware that they were a division of Interstate. Thanks for that info!

    Mike CS - You're welcome, and thanks very much for the comment! Stay tuned, I have some great stuff on the Addison area coming up, after the current series. I read about the Addison Topps fire a while back, but don't recall the year it happened. I'll try to track it down and include it in the upcoming article.

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  40. I remember growing up in Terre Haute, Indiana we had Topps, Grants, and K-Mart all without a couple of blocks of one another. Talk about discount heaven!

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  41. Does anyone remember the Shopper's Fair shopping center or store on Ridge Road (West, I believe)in Rochester or Greece, New York? It was past Greece Town Mall and sort of on the border of leaving Greece and going into Rochester. I worked there. I must have been in 8th or 9th grade (I believe 9th). A friend and I worked there and would drive from the Holley area there. It was on the North side of the Ridge Road. This was back in the mid-to-late 60's.
    Thank you
    T.D.

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  42. I vividly remember the Topps in Westland, MI (which was only Nankin Township back then). One night, there were thousands of grasshoppers hanging on the outside wall of the building, attracted, I supposed to the overhead lights. My friends and I filled our pockets with as many as we could carry (probably almost 100), then took them into the store. We released them in the sporting goods department, then waited a couple areas over.

    We heard a cashier scream, then watched as the manager ran over to the area, then out, then back with some stockboys. I think they spent the rest of the night trying to catch them all.

    The Topps building is still there, having been various businesses over the years. Remodellings have removed all of the original look.

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  43. The former Topps location in Greenwood Indiana carries a curse of retail store failure, after closing in the early 1970s, the location was renovated (circa mid-1990s) into a Value City which as of 2007 is now defunct.

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  44. Topps in Menands (Albany) New York....

    I was going to email this but found the blogs...

    I just visited your site looking for a shopping center I remember as a child and I think it's the same one in your site, but not sure. The store was called "Topps" and it was in Menands, New York, on Broadway, which is also Albany County. (Just down 2 blocks was a very very tall Montgomery Wards Building, which is now offices.) The photo you have of a Topps store sort of looks like it. I was about 7 or 8 back then and remember it had a large parking lot(back in the 60's) What I remember is this. If that is the photo of the same store, on the right side of the photo, in the parking lot, (aerial shot)they had a traveling Indian show there once. There were Indian teepees with straw on the ground, and the Indians just set up as if to live there for awhile and it was all walled in. My uncled paid some money for my cousin and I to go in and see how these iIndians lived. I think they were Cheyenne's but not sure. Inside, as I remember, was a Chief, and I was told he was on the Indian head nickle. I sat on his lap and someone took a photo. I don't know where that photo is today.

    I would like to know if anyone has any photos of that Topps and if anyone by chance, might have photos of that event or even remember it.

    I just researched who is on the nickle. What I found is this:

    James Earle Fraser designed the "bison" nickle.
    Fraser featured a profile of a Native American on the reverse, which was a composite portrait of 3 Native Americans. Iron Tail, and Oglala Sioux Chief, Two Moons, a Cheyenne Chief and Big Tree, a Kiowa Chief.

    My email is mharo@cfl.rr.com

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  45. My favorite memory of Topps as a kid in Rolling Meadows, Illinois was a celebrity appearance by Julie Newmar who was Catwoman from the Batman series on ABC in the late sixties.

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  46. Michele - Sorry it took so long for me to respond - the Menands, NY store was indeed a Topps, nd it opened in August 1960. Hopefully someone recalls the Indian exhibition and chime in!

    Anthony - Wow, talk about a sixites icon! They don't get much bigger than Ms. Newmar, that's for sure. That would have been one cool event!

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  47. What a trip down memory lane! My first job was at Topps in Speedway IN in 1964. It was not associated with a grocery. I met my first husband there as well, a couple of years later. I don't remember what year Topps went out, but the building is still standing, and may be a carpet store today. I have been trying to remember what famous female singer made an appearance there when she was just starting out in the sixties.

    DT - Texas

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  48. I remember a Topps Department Store in Warren Michigan at Van Dyke Ave. and 13 Mile Road. It was next to a Farmer Jack grocery store. The last time I remember shopping there was 1973 and it closed shortly after. The Chatham grocery chain took over the building until they went out of business. Then a Michaels craft store occupied the building until it was torn down in the late 90's to make way for a Lowes.

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  49. Do you remember when the Topps on North Avenue in Addison/Lombard burned to the ground in the laste 60s? The rebuilt store still stands now as a SYMS mens store. I also remember as a child shopping at Topps and how they has a tiny stamp wand that they would stamp every price tag while you were checking out with there logo. Im guessing this was done for possible returns reasons proving the item was purchased there and paid for.

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  50. I remember the one in Terre Haute,Indiana on Wabash Avenue,the building is still there and sat empty for many years.It actually sat empty for about 20 years or so,i can remember the Topps sign on the front of the building had alot of holes from kids vandalizing it and the glass at the other end on the garden center.I vaguely remember going in there as a kid,the building is still there it is a furniture store now called the cricket box.

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  51. Anonymous – The same thing happened with the Rolling Meadows, IL Topps sign (punched holes) during the years it sat vacant prior to its short-lived conversion to a Woolco. Somehow, even though they weren’t around very long, Topps tends to stand out in the memory of those of us who shopped there as kids. Thanks!

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  52. Unbelievably late on this one, but if memory serves, I actually have been inside the Baltimore Topps you pictured. It was in Catonsville, just outside of the city on US 40. I have no idea if it's still there or recognizable, but in 1990, there was a store called Epstein's located there that was on its last legs. We stopped there, realized there was nothing left to buy, and left. The interior is a blur, but the exterior is unmistakable. it looked the exact same except for the cars and the sign.

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  53. I grew up going to Topps in Menands (Albany) NY. My dad was a part-time security guard there...and, my uncle Butch was on duty as a policeman one night in the early 60's when he saw something odd. Put his hands against the window--and it imploded! The store was on fire! Topps burnt down, and my dad & some of our neighbors with the Menads Fire Company #1 fought the blaze. Topps was quickly re-built. In the early 70's, my mom used to take our cat, Whitey, in the shopping cart with us! I remember Topps so well, loads of happy childhood memories--especially the now politically incorrect coin-up horse outside, with the pistol attached which shot down buffaloes & Indians which moved along inside a box mounted in front of the ride. Mid-City shopping Center was named that, because it had once been an amusement area. My dad's family ran Mid-City pool & roller rink, supervised wrestling matches. Hawkins baseball stadium (where Babe Ruth hit one of his last home runs) and a big roller coaster had been torn down when Topps was built. My mom & dad's first home as a married couple, was in a trailer beside the abandoned roller coaster. So, Topps in Menands is "family" to me. I remember many of the purchases my mom made for me there. I even got "Batman's" autograph there, once!

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  54. PS: the Menands (Albany) NY Topp's building, complete with the arch, still is there, only it's been converted to the office for the NY State Worker's Compensation Board.

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  55. When I was a kid, we had a Topps store in North Olmsted, Ohio (in the Cleveland area). When I was in 3rd grade, I bought a small cactus in a little plastic pot there. It is still living (in a larger planter) at my parents' house, nearly 40 years later. We watched many department stores come and go in the area-- Topps, Zayre, Gold Circle, Uncle Bill's, Clarkins, Gaylord's Giant Tiger... I miss them.

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  56. I believe there is another Topps building located at 159th and Dixie hwy in Harvey Near the old Dixie Square Mall. Does anyone remember this?

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  57. A friend just sent me a picture of a picture that was a Topps store in Rockford Illinois. I can think of anywhere where this store would have been in Rockford. Does anyone have any idea?

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  58. Anonymous - The 159th and Dixie Highway Topps store opened on November 13, 1969 according to a Chicago Tribune article.

    Jason - The address I have for the Rockford Topps is 55 E. State St. This is from an old Scotts Lawn Care ad. I took a look at that address on Bing Maps, and it's right next to the river if the map is correct. Seems like a strange location!

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  59. Thanks, Steve. I only recently came across your information for the Family Fair chain in Louisville. Interesting that it was related to Topps. I remember it was the first discount department store within miles of our house. It must have been built by 1960 because I got (and still have) a 1960 Valiant promotional model car there. I remember it made the news when it blew up. If ever I am back in Louisville, I must remember to go to the public library and try to look up the Courier-Journal microfilm, but it seems to me it burnt to the ground around 1965. The first local Topps was built in 1967.

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  60. Steve -- I just read your comment in August, 2009 about Family Fair in Louisville that seemed so mysterious. Thanks so much for that information. I do believe the Louisville Family Fair store was built in 1959. I actually remember getting a 1960 Valiant promotional model car there. As for the date of the tragic explosion, I believe it was about 1965.

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  61. I remember still vividly the Albany, NY (North Albany/Menands), located just south of the big Montgomery Ward store,office and warehouse. In that shopping center (Mid-Way Shopping Center, with its black sign and red neon letters, red arrow pointing in!), Topps was on the left, separate from the rest, but a covered walkway connected it to the rest. State Bank of Albany was next, then Woolworth's and then Food Fair (later Pantry Pride, then later, Price Chopper). There may have been another smaller store between the bank and Woolworth's. Anyway, I remember walking into Topps when I was little, 5-6 years old. I remember the smell of popcorn, and the crayons were in the right front corner! My parents still have Christmas ornaments that came from Topps.

    -Howard

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  62. Anthony from Rolling MeadowsDecember 27, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    Topps was one of two department stores in Rolling Meadows, IL when I was a kid in the 60's/early 70's. It was paired with National Tea. A previous poster mentioned meeting Ed Kranepool of the NY Mets at Topps and it reminded me that we got to meet Julie Newmar who played Catwoman from the Batman series on ABC at the Rolling Meadows store.

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  63. Just found this on Flickr - A (rather blurry) photo of a former Topps in Rockford, IL - INCLUDING the sign! http://www.flickr.com/photos/50798105@N03/6203865809/in/photostream/

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  64. I just found your page and it was a lot of fun seeing things about Topps. I was one of the managers at the store in Highland Indiana in 1968 and 69. One store looked a lot like another so this was a great reminder. Thanks for doing this!

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    1. D - It's always a pleasure hearing from folks who worked in these great stores in their heyday. Glad to help relive the memories through this!

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    2. The Topps former location in Highland, IN is alive and well as Ultra Foods. I remember when the store opened in the early 1980's, I was a child and was quite impressed by the store's "warehouse foods" concept with forklifts driving down the aisles. The store opened in 1981 along with an R Way Drug, Sears Surplus and Aldi.....I assume before this from 1974 to 1981, this plaza sat empty. Sears is gone and Aldi is gone, and R Way briefly became an F&M....Ultra has taken over most of the space of this building. I also remember that in the center of this store was a slightly lowered ceiling with square recessed 8x8 fluorescent troffer lights....very much showin the "The Scene" photographs above.

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    3. I can't believe I found this! My father, Richard Buhse was the original store manager in Highland when it opened in 1963. There was a huge fire that occurred about a month before they opened the store. Did a million dollars worth of damage. Luke Roberts became the manager when dad became the district manager of Highland, IN; Gary, IN (Melton Rd - now a Firestone Tire center); Oak Lawn, IL; Markham, IL; Dubuque and Des Moines, IA. When Topps went bankrupt, Robert Hall Village converted a few of those Topps stores, and my father continued with that company, keeping his district manager office in the Highland store until they closed around 1975. I can remember seeing Ned Locke (Ringmaster Ned from Bozo), Rick Jason (Combat), Forest Tucker (F Troop), Julie Newmar (Catwoman), and Jayne Mansfield as some of the celebrities they would hire for promotions. And I'll never forget that one hot August when he rented the Banana Splits costumes for the big outdoor tent sale! My 2 older brothers and older sister walked around for a week in those things carrying tape recorders playing all of the songs.
      La-la-laaaa, la-lala-la, la-la-laaaa, la-lala-laaaaaaaa. 1 banana, 2 banana, 3 banana, 4.....

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  65. Topps also had at least one location in Northern New Jersey, on Route 46 in Totowa. The store drew big crowds as people were drawn to this new form of retailing. One particular memory was the store's 24-hour (as in "all-night") sales events, a novelty in those days. After Topps, the store became Channel Lumber, and now has been subdivided.

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    1. i work in spfld. Ma. store. 1970-1973. Topps #115 665 Boston Rd. Good times!

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  66. I worked at Topps store 112 (Perring Parkway-Baltimore) from 1966 through 1972. An incredible time in my career as a recent high school graduate in 1966. Some great people who I still remember just like it was yesterday, Tony Barberi, Ed Hertz, Ralph Rosenfeld to name just a few. Somewhere in the house I have a chain wide employee contest brochure that I will scan and post to the site.

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  67. Wow..the East Hartford Store is pictured here. as a kid, my mom used to shop at Topps and Food Mart and between them was a donut machine that had GREAT donuts. It used to give both stores a nice smell.

    when Topps closed, the space became a mini-mall along with a theater The shopping center expanded, but the mini-mall (sorta like a flea market, but they asked for new merchandise to be sold) failed, so the Salvation Army put a thrift store in it.

    By the mid 80s, Food Mart was replaced by Greenfield's (a discount food store), then by Edwards (FKA Finast). By 1993, both Topps and Food Mart spaces were empty. By 1995, Coca-Cola (which was their neighbor), bought the shopping center for an expansion to the bottling complex.

    I wonder where the first Topps store was located in Hartford? Does anyone know?

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  68. Does anyone have any pics of the Family fair in Louisville, Ky.????? I vaguely remember the store in Algonquin Manor Shopping Center but I don't remember why it burnt down, as I was only about 4 years old at the time!!! I sure would like to see some pics of that store...Thanks Anthony

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  69. On a whim I searched "Topps" and this wonderful blog popped up.

    I have a very close emotional link to Topps. My father, Richard Cooley; was a department manager at the famed local D.C. area Hecht Department store. One day, the family packed up and moved half way across the country. Dad had been hired as store manager for Topps in Chicago Heights. We lived there for a short while, and then Dad got another Topps not too far away (I am thinking maybe the one in Burbank..close to Oak Lawn..my memory is a little hazy), so we moved to a house in Oak Lawn.

    My greatest Topps memory was around that time, in say 1966. The TV spy show Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a huge hit, starring Robert Vaughn and young David McCallam. Now he is well known as playing the whimsical veteran Medical Examiner "Ducky" in NCIS; but back then he was considered a sex symbol, a very big star, and one summer he was on a promotional tour, promoting the show and a line of IDEAL toy guns and accessories styled after the TV show's gear (Something that would never happen today, a major TV star going around hawking toy guns..that was a different era; but hey I gotta say, the guns were cool.)

    One of MacCallam's stops was ChicagoLand, including Dad's Topp's store which of course carried the toys. One Saturday, they used the adjacent store warehouse
    for the star's appearance. My older brother and me; I was 9 or so at that time, along with a few other employee's kids, got to dress in UNCLE garb (anyone remember the black turtlenecks and the UNCLE I.D. badges?) and be the actor's "bodyguards", standing on watch with the toy guns as "Elia Kuriakin", famous spy signed autographs. The bodyguard idea was my Dad's, who was a wealth of promotional creativity. We of course got a personal Meet and Greet with the star. In fact my father personally picked him up from a train station the night before; apparently Mr. M. did not enjoy flying. The story goes the actor was a little drunk, and the day of his appearance had a roaring hang over; so the screaming female fans must not have been so fun for him.

    Dad continued to do well with Topps. So much so he was promoted to regional manager for the Cleveland area stores, so the family moved yet again, and lived in Lyndhurst, not far from the major intersection of Richmond and Mayfield streets. My strongest Topps memory there were those occasional Saturday's when Dad would take me with him on the rounds of some of the area stores; I believe the one in Parma was one. Even at that young age, I couldn't help but notice how super nice all the employees were to me, no doubt because I was the BIG boss's kid. I also remember how sometimes my father would lecture some of the store managers on this and that; usually concerning presentation. Never in a cruel way, but he didn't mince words either.

    Virtually paralleling Topps' troubles starting in the early 70's, my father's health deteriorated: Lung cancer. He had surgery, and seemed to come back. At that point he had just been appointed Midwest Regional VP; but in October of 1972, at only 46 years of age, Dad died. Not so long after that, so did Topps.

    So I cannot watch an episode of NCIS now, without thinking of those TOPPS days so long ago, mostly great memories of my childhood, and of course Dad, whom I have now long outlived chronologically, and whom I still miss very much.

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  70. Mitch - Thanks so much for sharing that wonderful story about your Dad, and his career at Topps. Even all these years later, I'm sure the sense of loss is still very real, but the great stories he's left you with must be a good source of comfort. My hat's off to him.

    As far as Topps goes, that's an awesome story! "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was definitely at high on the pop culture radar screen in those days, and David McCallum's appearances must have been a very exciting thing!

    Sol Cantor, Interstate's chariman, had a real penchant for celebrity appearances, and many big names showed up at store openings for Topps and White Front, their west coast counterparts. Great times!

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