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  ⋅  When did Sears open its first store?
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Richard Sears first moved his mail order company from Minneapolis to Chicago in late March 1887. The R.W. Sears Watch Company occupied a building on Dearborn Street, north of Randolph Street. Sears returned to Chicago in 1892 by opening an office on West Van Buren just east of Halsted. Shortly after this he moved the offices into a five story building on West Adams Street just east of Halsted.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. outgrew that building by 1896 and the company moved to the Enterprise building at the corners of Fulton, Des Plaines and Wayman Streets. Repeated expansions and remodels of this building occurred over the next 6 years.

In 1904, Sears purchased land south of Garfield Park, along the Belt Line Railroad at the intersection of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street on Chicago’s West Side. Sears built a merchandise building comprising almost a million square feet of floor space and an office building comprising almost half a block. The complex included a printing building, and a powerhouse. A prominent clock tower helped define the building’s architecture. The ’U’ shaped Merchandise building incorporated railroad tracks into the design.

Over the years Sears enlarged the Merchandise Building numerous times. These expansions helped make the building at one time the second largest business structure of its kind in the world. The electricity supplied by the powerhouse operated the ventilating system, escalators, and transmission belts for carrying merchandise between the stock departments and the shipping departments. Over nine miles of pneumatic tubing quickly transported letters and other papers from one department to another.

The first store

The first Sears retail store opened in Chicago on February 2, 1925 in the Merchandise building. This store included an optical shop and a soda fountain. During the summer of 1928 three more Chicago department stores opened, one on the north side at Lawrence and Winchester, a second on the south side at 79th and Kenwood, and the third at 62nd and Western. In 1929 Sears took over the department store business of Becker-Ryan Company. In 1933 Sears tore down the old Becker-Ryan Company store in Englewood, and built the first windowless department store, inspired by the 1932 Chicago worlds fair.

In March of 1932, Sears opened its first downtown department store in Chicago on State Street. Sears located the store in an eight-story building, built in 1893 by Levi Z. Leiter, which for years housed the Stegel-Cooper department store. The original Chicago occupant on this piece of land was William Bross who in 1871 mounted his house on wheels and rolled it down State Street to the corner of Van Buren Street. He kept his house on wheels for several years because of the marshy conditions of the land. The Leiter Building, designed by famous skyscraper architect William LeBaron Jenny, included walls of New England granite.

The store sat on the corner of Van Buren, State and Congress streets and cost over a million dollars to refurbish. A 72-foot long electric Sears sign greeted shoppers at the front entrance. A stunning black and white terrazzo covered the main floor. The State street store was the first Sears store in a downtown shopping district, the sixth store in Chicago, and the 381st store the company built.

Opening day for the State Street store took place deep in the Great Depression. Local newspapers reported that 15,000 shoppers visited the new store and several thousand people flooded the store’s employment office. Sears did everything it could to help put people to work, employing 750 Chicago workers for four months during the renovation and staffing the new store with over 1,000 people.

Illinois Governor Louis Emmerson in a message to Sears Chairman Lessing Rosenwald stated, "I cannot help but feel that this opening will mean a great deal for your organization as well as for your city." Rosenwald proudly proclaimed that, "We regard the opening of our new store on the world’s greatest thoroughfare as one of the high spots of our company’s history."

Within the store the sale of tombstones, farm tractors, and ready-made milking stalls caught customer’s attention. The sporting goods department featured a model-hunting lodge. Other attractions included a candy shop, soda fountain, lunch counters, a shoe repair shop, a pet shop, dentists, chiropodists, a first aid station with a trained nurse, a children’s playground, and a department for demonstrating kitchen utensils.

 
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