On November 2, 1925, Sears opened two new retail stores,
one on Lawrence Avenue, and the other on 79th Street in Chicago.
Today, these stores represent two of Chicagoís oldest,
continuously operating stores in the Sears retail store system.
More importantly, over the last 77 years, these stores became
very important parts of the local neighborhoods.
Both neighborhoods trace their roots back to the middle of
the nineteenth century. In the area that is today Lawrence
Avenue, German, English and Luxembourg truck farmers began
cultivating the land in the mid nineteenth century. One of the
main crops was cucumbers and a number of pickle factories
sprouted up in the area. The 79th Street neighborhood
got its start in 1853 when two trains collided at what are now
75th Street and South Chicago Avenue. After the 1853
collision, state law required all trains to stop at that point.
A Chicago developer, Paul Cornell decided that the swampy area
would be a good site for a suburban development since
transportation to Chicago was assured by the train stop. Many of
these settlers were Germans, who were farmers or worked in the
local building trades. Later railroad workers, and workers from
the Pullman Car factory settled there.
After the turn of the century, the tree-lined streets in both
neighborhoods consisted of one and two story frame houses, brick
bungalows, two-story flats, and small apartment buildings. On
Lawrence Avenue, the neighborhood mix became even more
international as Swedes, Italians, Russian Jews, and Greeks
joined the English, Germans, and Luxemburgers. The neighborhood
around 79th Street also grew. Now Swedes, Irish,
Italians, and African Americans were settling into the
Both Sears stores were built under the old style model of
retail stores. They were two story buildings, with lots of
windows for light and ventilation. The stores architecture
included the signature tower that all Sears stores and Catalog
Merchandise Distribution Centers featured in these early years.
Merchandise was stacked on wooden tables, and massive space
consuming square columns held the floors up. Stairways and a
newfangled escalator linked the floors. Money and receipts were
sent from the sales floor to the office via pneumatic tubes.
Like the surrounding neighborhoods, these two stores have
adapted to constant change. Customers shopping at the Lawrence
Avenue store are now more likely to be Hispanic, Korean,
Vietnamese, Thai, Greek and East European. The 79th
Street store witnessed one of the greatest migrations of people
in the nationís history when thousands of African Americans
from the South rode the Illinois Central Railroad to settle in
south Chicago during the middle of the twentieth century.