This article is strictly about discount and department stores with locations in Lincolnwood and nearby. I am saving some stores for my next article on Skokie. I won’t be waxing nostalgic about Marshall Field’s here, because such a venerable store deserves a post of its own. I covered select Chicago area stores in a 2011 blog called Windy City Memories … of the Way Department Stores Were. I may mention a few of the same stores again, however, in such instances, I’ve endeavored to unearth new intriguing facts and photos.
Shoppers World opened on August 15, 1962 across from Lincoln Village at 6211 Lincoln Ave at McCormick. Shoppers flocked to the opening as seen in the photo. I really don’t remember Shoppers World because I was too young, but do have vague recollections of Community Discount, which I believe acquired Shoppers World in the late 1960s. When Community Discount closed, Zayre opened at this site.
By the end of 1966, Zayre had 92 stores with major concentrations in Greater Chicago, Miami, and its home base Boston. Zayre Corp. wanted to buy the Marshalls chain, which didn’t pan out, so they founded and opened the first T.J. Maxx in 1977. Ten years later, T.J. Maxx was acquired by TJX Companies, the parent company of Marshalls and subsequently other stores. Zayre went belly up in 1990 after several years of financial losses. I still find vintage socks and other sealed items marked Zayre. Home Depot has been at the 6211 Lincoln Ave site for a number of years.
Crawford Department Store was on Devon between Western and California and there was a store in Rolling Meadows, however, it had none of the charm of the Chicago location. Crawford was a quaint, old-fashioned store with Art Deco wood and glass cases and elderly clerks. On the first floor, they had good deals on shoes before any of the bargain off-price shoe stores existed. Sadly, this store met its demise in 1993, unable to keep up with the explosion of major chains.
Crawford was without a doubt the store my mom shopped at the most – even more than Marshall Field’s, although I cannot remember my dad ever shopping there. For some reason I found the back entrance through the parking lot enchanting. My mom took us there frequently, where she stocked up on stockings, socks, and towels. She bought us pajamas, striped tops, and stretch pants with stirrups in the children’s department, located in the basement. I loved my turquoise blue and bright yellow stretch pants so much they ended up with holes in the knees. The yellow pants earned me the moniker Betsy Banana Peel from the little brother of my friend Joan.
Wieboldt’s was founded in 1883 by storekeeper William A. Wieboldt. It was in business for more than 100 years, closing in 1986. The largest store at One North State Street in downtown Chicago was established as a result of acquiring the failed Mandel Brothers store in 1961. The same year, a small store opened in Lincoln Village. Prior to that, five Chicago neighborhood stores existed at Grand and Ashland, Milwaukee and Paulina, Lincoln and Belmont, Halsted and 63rd St., and Ashland and Monroe, as well as suburban locations in Evanston, Norridge, and Oak Park. By the 1970s, Wieboldt’s operated more than 15 stores in the Chicago area.
I shopped as a young adult at the State Street store, however, the Lincoln Village Shopping Center location is associated with my fondest memories. My mom collected S&H Green Stamps and as a special treat, she would let each of us redeem the stamps for a little gift, every so often. I still have a quaint gold-filled heart pendant with faux opal that both my younger sister Janet and I picked out – we must have been about 5 and 9 respectively. Prior to that, when I turned 6, I scored the mother of all green stamp toys when my mom redeemed an enormous number of books at Wieboldt’s for an awesome Chein tin toy roller coaster. This toy never worked correctly and it ended up on the floor in the back of my closet – wish I had it now, but all I have is an 8 mm film my dad shot of my birthday and the little roller coaster cars not staying on the track! When I was in junior high school, I remember my mom and I laughing hysterically when an elderly blue-haired clerk walked away from the cash register to check on inventory for us, tooting all the way as she let out a barrage of hot air.
Founded by Brooklyn-born Eugene Ferkauf in May 1948, E. J. Korvette’s first store was a cramped second floor space in Manhattan, with luggage the primary product offered. The concept was to sell deeply-discounted products at much lower prices than competitors. In this day and age – big deal – yet this was an innovative strategy back in the late 1950s to early 1960s. In 1957, only nine years after its founding, sales were at $71 million, and in 1962, sales reached $237 million. Ferkauf was featured in a Time magazine cover story in 1962. Malcolm McNair, a retailing professor at Harvard Business School, said Ferkauf was among the six greatest merchants in American history, along with the likes of Frank W. Woolworth and J. C. Penney. Sam Walton visited him in NYC and picked his brain, founding Walmart two years after their meeting.
To get around fair-trade laws (price maintenance) intended to protect small store owners, Ferkauf declared Korvette a membership organization, not a retail store. The store did not invoke a fee like today’s Sam’s Club, Costco, and others. Membership cards were handed out to every single shopper who came through the doors. This approach enabled him to persuade distributors to sell him wholesale merchandise at a discount. Throughout the 1960s to 1970s, the chain expanded the number of stores and product offerings. Ferkauf sold his share in E. J. Korvette in 1966 for more than $20 million. By that time, the company had 45 department stores and 60 supermarkets. Korvette Cities measured a whopping 200,000-plus square feet and consisted of a “promotional department store” with an adjoining Korvette supermarket, furniture/carpet center, and tire store.
In 1979, Korvette’s was purchased by the French corporation Agache-Willot Group. Initially, they closed Korvette’s least profitable stores and began selling off merchandise, fixtures, equipment, and real estate. In 1980, they declared bankruptcy and closed the remaining 17 stores in December of that year.
Robert Hall Clothes was a nationwide chain of about 500 family clothing stores, with each about 8,000 square feet. Such was the store on Devon in West Rogers Park, close to the original Bagel. The Connecticut-based company pioneered the concept of low-overhead, “big-box” merchandising, selling inexpensively made goods pitched through extensive radio and television advertising. The stores were a forerunner to Kmart, with a primary focus on merchandising of Robert Hall Clothes. Some of the stores had other products, however, these were leased out to other companies. After nearly 40 years in business, Robert Hall’s parent company declared bankruptcy in July 1977 and all the stores were sold at auction. We didn’t shop here much – I recall the clothes being rather dowdy.
Hit Or Miss was one of the first off-price discount stores before the existence of TJ Maxx, Ross, or Nordstrom Rack. They sold brand- name apparel at 20 to 50 percent off regular prices. In 1969, Zayre Corp. bought the Hit or Miss chain and entered the off-price fashion market. During the recession of the 1970s, Hit or Miss fared so well, Zayre considered expanding its off-price upscale apparel merchandising. According to this New York Times article, Hit or Miss opened its first two stores in Manhattan in the Wall Street area and one on upper Broadway in October 1983. By then, they had seven stores within a 20-block area in downtown Chicago, three stores in Boston and two in Philadelphia, as well as other cities. I fondly remember shopping at the store in Lincoln Village and going now and then to one in downtown Chicago when I worked in the Maller’s Building.
Kinney Shoes was in business for more than a century from 1894 to 1998, owned by several different companies. Founded by George Romanta Kinney at the age of 28, the first store was in Waverly, New York. Kinney’s was known for selling reasonably priced shoes for the entire family. By 1936, Kinney Shoes was the largest family chain shoe retailer in the U.S., with 335 stores nationwide. Twenty years later, Kinney Shoes was only ranked the eighth largest retailer and soon thereafter became a subsidiary of the Brown Shoe Co. of St. Louis.
In 1963, the F.W. Woolworth Co., the world’s largest variety chain at the time, acquired Kinney from Brown for $45 million. Foot Locker began as a division of the Kinney Shoe Corporation in 1974. In 1994, Kinney Shoe Corporation celebrated its 100th year in operation. On July 17, 1997, Woolworth closed its remaining department stores in the U.S. and changed its corporate name to Venator. In September of the following year, Venator announced it was closing all Kinney Shoe stores. Today, many of Foot Locker’s 3,546 stores are independently owned under the Foot Locker imprint.
Nearly all of our shoes (with the exception of my dad) came from Kinney Shoes at 7031 Lincoln Ave, across from the northeast portion of Proesel Park. I remember my mom taking us shopping there after school. This building currently houses a Pet Supplies Plus.
The first Turn Style opened in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1957, followed by four other New England stores. In 1961, Jewel acquired the Turn Style brand and expanded to the Midwest. In 1978, 19 of 22 existing stores were sold to May Department Stores and converted to Venture stores. Some locations became large Osco Drug Stores, while others were shuttered.
I loved Turn Style on Skokie Blvd and recall asking my mom to take me there with some frequency. Memories are selective and somewhat odd. I recall suffering from my very first migraine at age 10 and lying down in the backseat of my mom’s car after shopping at Turn Style. I enjoyed buying tiny bulk jelly beans there – and I mean tiny, as they were much smaller than the Jelly Belly brand. I also remember buying rabbit fur rugs there for crafting for $1.79 each. My friend Ginny worked there during high school, although by then, I wasn’t shopping there as often.
Venture was founded in 1968, soon growing to more than 70 stores, with a density in St. Louis, Chicago and Kansas City. During a 30-year period, Venture expanded across various areas in the U.S., becoming the largest discount chain in Chicago. Venture filed for bankruptcy protection on January 20, 1998. It planned to sell and assign the leases on many of its 93 stores to Kimco Realty Corp., with stores taken over by Kmart Corp. Of all the discount stores, I think Venture was the best of the lot. The quality was better than Zayre or Kmart and it didn’t have the annoying qualities of many Walmarts. We shopped at the Venture store that replaced Turn Style on Skokie Blvd. After I moved to Des Plaines in 1991, we shopped at the Mount Prospect store on Elmhurst Rd. north of Dempster.
Founded in Boston in 1877 as Butler Brothers, the store started as a mail-order wholesaler selling general and variety-store items. By 1900, Butler Brothers boasted more than 100,000 customers in the U.S. Due to the proliferation of variety stores, Butler Brothers established the Ben Franklin chain in 1927, selling it in 1959. Walmart founder Sam Walton started his career in retailing at a Ben Franklin store. At its peak, the chain had 2,500 stores nationwide. Cotter & Co. (parent company of True Value) sold its V&S Variety Store chain to Ben Franklin in 1995. Ben Franklin in its original incarnation was a five and dime similar to Charles Value-Ville in Edgebrook, which was part of the V&S Variety Store chain. In 1996-1997, Ben Franklin Retail Stores Inc. declared bankruptcy and sold its remaining stores.
The Skokie store was located at 5011 Oakton St. Next to the Ben Franklin in the 1975 photo above is Discount King, a cluttered but kind of cool store selling shampoos, soap, and other sundries. Promotions Unlimited bought the chain and still operates craft and variety stores today. Having been to the short-lived Mundelein Ben Franklin, I can attest to the fact these stores lack the charm of the original, selling cookie-cutter merchandise made in China. Although I shopped at the Skokie Ben Franklin now and then, my favorite dime store was the Woolworth at Michigan Ave and Huron on the Gold Coast. I also loved an independent, quaint ma and pa five and dime further east on Oakton across from Oakton Park.
Majestic Wholesale Distributors was a discounted catalog store with a small showroom on Skokie Blvd south of Main Street. The company sold many of the same items as Sears such as bikes, toys, fur coats, lighting, furniture, spark plugs, appliances, etc. I remember my parents ordering from there and going with my mom to pick up merchandise. I don’t know if you needed to buy a membership to shop there, since it was a wholesaler.
McDade & Co. opened its first store in 1958 in an old post office building on 51st Street in Chicago. They sold electronics, appliances, jewelry, and other items from catalog showrooms. In October 1987, it was announced McDade would shut its six remaining Chicago-area catalog showrooms in Lincolnwood, Burbank, Niles, Westmont, Aurora, and Carol Stream after conclusion of the Christmas season. The Lincolnwood store was across the street from the infamous Purple Hotel. You can page through an entire 1976 catalog on YouTube – the two images above are screen captures from that catalog.
Service Merchandise was originally founded in 1934 by Harry and Mary Zimmerman as a five-and-dime store in Pulaski, Tennessee. The modern-day Service Merchandise was similar to McDade, but far more successful. In fact, Service Merchandise was a prominent sponsor of Wheel of Fortune when it was a shopping-based show (from 1975-1989 in daytime and 1983-1987 in syndication). Contestants could opt to receive a gift certificate from the company if they did not have enough money remaining after shopping to purchase any of the other remaining prizes. At its peak, the company managed 400+ stores, selling $4 billion dollars in fine jewelry and gifts annually to loyal customers across 37 states. Although Service Merchandise closed all its stores in early 2002, the founders’ son Raymond Zimmerman was able to reinvent the model as an online-only store in 2004, and it is still thriving today.
In 1935, Sol Polk founded Polk Brothers at 3334 N. Central Ave in Chicago, however, it was originally called Central Appliance and Furniture. In the 1950s-1960s, Polk Bros. pioneered the art of discounting at a time when most department stores sold merchandise at full price. The Skokie store was located at 9300 N. Skokie Blvd, just north of Church. A fire on June 1, 1987 gutted the company’s warehouse and adjacent headquarters at 8311 W. North Avenue in Melrose Park. This personally affected me – I was 8-months pregnant and baby furniture purchased for us by my parents at the Skokie Polk Brothers was supposed to be delivered on June 2, 1987. My parents received a refund like thousands of other customers and we ended up buying a crib for more money at a baby store in Lincoln Village. The fire coupled with the death of Sol Polk a year later was the beginning of the end. The 1990-1991 recession and competitors such as Best Buy helped propel the demise of Polk Brothers. The Polk Brothers Foundation is still thriving today as a charitable organization.
Howard Juvenile: It’s original store was on Howard St in East Rogers Park near the El station. We shopped at the Lincoln Village store which was jam packed with all sorts of merchandise – from leotards and ballet shoes to stuffed animals and dolls.
Bargain Barns: This was a small, odd closeout store on Oakton St across from Hungarian Kosher. I somehow talked my mom into buying me a fringed suede hippy vest, which of course ended up in the back of my closet, unworn.
Photo sources: Chicago Extinct Businesses, Craigs Lost Chicago, Flicker, Illinois Digital Archives, Pinterest, Pleasant Family Shopping, 70sSkokie.blogspot.com, Yelp, YouTube, Worthpoint