High on the list of late, lamented retail chains would have to be Montgomery Ward & Company. For nearly 130 years Americans shopped at Wards, both through their legendary mail-order catalog and at their store locations.
The early years of Montgomery Ward are well documented in history books – a young entrepreneur starts a mail-order catalog business, supplying even the remotest areas with essential goods for home and farm. Eventually, the company would open a chain of retail stores to go along with its catalog business.
And of course, most of us are familiar with the Wards of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s - the mall stores, which grew increasingly dowdy as the company desperately searched for a winning formula to succeed in the brave new retail world. (Remember the “Electric Ave.” electronics departments?)
Between those two eras is a relatively brief period that is more or less overlooked today –Ward’s massive store construction program of the late 1950’s and 60’s. In 1958 the company, having failed to open new locations for many years at that point and in grave danger of being forgotten by the buying public, kicked off a very aggressive building program. Fifty new stores were opened in the next three years, many of which were major mall or shopping center locations. On top of this, hundreds of existing smaller stores were remodeled.
In my opinion, the Montgomery Ward stores of this era, a ten-year period starting in 1958, were some of the best looking retail stores ever. Pictured above is the very first store of what can be called Ward’s “golden age” (of mall stores, at least), at Denver, Colorado’s Lakeside Shopping Center. The 120,000 square foot, two-story store’s opening ceremonies were held on August 13, 1958. In back of the Wards store is The Denver Dry Goods Co. and to the right is a Lerner Shops store.