(Immeasurable thanks to Dave Aldrich for the two middle pics above)
Adobe Photodeluxe was here too in the first picture; I used it to create a fairly-accurate reproduction of the French Market sign on the still-existent building. Below it is an artist's rendering, an actual partial picture of the storefront, and finally, another photo of the same building as a K Mart as it looked from 1970 until the Big K logo switch.
A vintage French Market shopping bag.
(Courtesy of Ann Rotunno)
About the same time that Ardan was going up on Merle Hay Road, this beautifully-designed discount store/supermarket opened down south in Overland Park, Kansas, and we discovered it in 1965 after we got settled into our new home elsewhere in the Kansas City area; it was here that I saw Ideal's Tip-It and Fish Bait games for the first time. It was owned by the founders of a more modest shopping emporium, Riverside Red X in Riverside, Missouri. Despite (or because of) the 1967 opening of Metcalf South Mall across the street from it, French Market threw in the towel in 1970 and became one of the fanciest-looking K Mart stores in the area later that year. Both this and the Riverside Red X were still in business as the 2000s continued, but December 15, 2013 was the last day of business for the Metcalf K Mart. It seems like every year these days they announce a round of store closings.
Acknowledement for this picture coming soon.
Brain's and Hested's, two of the original tenants at The Center Mall in Omaha when it opened in the late '50s, weren't terribly big and their merchandise selection might not have been as diverse as the big guys back then, but I was able to get color vidcaps of their old storefronts...so I figured I'd include them here.
The very first Woolco ever built opened in Columbus, Ohio in 1962; what a great sign and entryway. Directly below is an identical Woolco in Louisville, Kentucky whose parking lot served as a promotional arena for Sinclair gas stations, as noted by the presence of their huge Dino mascot. Below that is a full-color close-up of a similar Woolco entryway.
(Above image courtesy of Dawn M. Lyons-Tooley)
Most Woolco stores looked identical to this one in Des Moines (top), although later ones built in the late '70s, such as the Omaha location (bottom) sported a different look.
I'd first heard of Woolco around 1966 or 1967 when they opened a Kansas City store, but I never entered one until 1972 when they made their debut in Des Moines. As with most of today's surviving discount stores, Woolco opened its first unit in 1962. This was the F. W. Woolworth variety chain's attempt to establish itself in the discount store field, though it isn't clear at this time whether Woolco followed on the heels of rival S.S. Kresge's own foray into the field with their first K Mart, or Woolco came first. But one thing was for sure: the fate of Woolco vs. Woolworth was the virtual opposite of K Mart vs. Kresge. Whereas Kresge and their lesser-known Jupiter stores division fell by the wayside in the 1980s and the newly-renamed K Mart Corporation concentrated mainly on their succesful discount stores, the smaller Woolworth variety stores seemed to be doing somewhat better than the behemoth Woolco stores for some reason. Not that they weren't trying--they appeared to have everything a successful discount chain should have had, plus Red Grille restaurants in many locations.
In the 1970s they reduced the size of some of the larger stores and filled the empty space next door with a low-priced clothing division called J. Brannum, which was supposed to be short for Just Brand Names. But this didn't help and they closed their stores in Chicago and a few other cities by the end of the decade (or perhaps in 1980) in hopes of staying alive elsewhere. Their situation never improved over the next couple of years and at the start of the 1982 Christmas shopping season, Woolco made the sad announcement in TV and radio spots that the discount stores would call it quits after 20 years with a massive going out of business sale--one of the largest for that time. By January 1983, Woolco was a memory in the U.S., but they were still alive and well in Canada...for a few years anyway.
Thanks to Brad Connell for this scan of two variations of the later logo.
One post-1960s oddity I had to include here was this Woolworth Company Department Store--larger than most Woolworths but not big enough to be a Woolco--which for years had anchored the Imperial Mall in Hastings, Nebraska until it was closed, torn down and replaced by a K Mart.
Sky City in Morristown, Tennessee, one of more than 50 stores which survived until 1992.
(Courtesy of Douglas W. McKinney)
Hills was another Northeastern chain; this one was in Horseheads, NY.
(Courtesy of Mike)
Here is a spectacular nighttime shot of Bargain Town USA located on Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence NY, near the JFK airport.
(courtesy of Frank Narciso)
One of two Ayr-Way stores located in Evansville, Indiana
(Courtesy of John Hammond)
When Gulf Mart opened a store in Omaha in October 1967, their Grand Opening newspaper ad had this to say about their latest location of choice:
We share your pride in your rich achievements...in the present and future of your magnificent city. We see it pulsating with power, vibrant with enterprise, always on the move. We see a dedicated population ever striving for better ways to live. We know that Omaha abounds in conscientious citizens who have far reaching dreams that must come true. Gulf Mart hopes its own great store will help Omaha realize some of these dreams.
Unfortunately, Gulf Mart's dream ended about seven years later when they closed this location. Later tenants included Childrens Palace and World Of Food, both later replaced themselves by Best Buy and Bag 'N Save, neither of which is in that building anymore.
This is the rear side view of a former Venture store in the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities area which used to be a Turn-Style store back in the 1960s and somehow managed to remain unchanged when it became Venture in the 1970s (Thanks to Chris Wolfe for mentioning it used to be a Turn-Style).
This Target store in Indianapolis exposes a portion of its past as an Ayr-Way store, following a tornado ravaging.
(Courtesy of Dan Shreffler)
Pictured below are two Photoshop re-creations of the type of former Turn-Style store pictued above, and a former Zayre brought "back to life".
Here are two 1960 ads for the Des Moines Shoppers World stores which came out about a week before Thanksgiving; check out those prices!
Here's a typical car you might have seen in the parking lot of a typical 1960s discount store.
Typical shoppers circa 1965?
I don't know about you, but I can easily picture the girl in the middle serving guests at a patio pool party wearing the same checked dress. She's got a tray with serving bowls full of General Mills Daisys and Whistles and Guy's Potato Chips, and tall Fiesta tumblers full of Coke and Tab (the tray, tumblers and bowls probably set her back about $7 total at Shopper's World). "Where Did Our Love Go?" is blasting from the living room hi-fi, happy folks are doing cannonballs into the pool, and all is right with the world.
The girl in the middle of this group could easily pass for the twin sister of the above-mentioned girl, and of course, she too is there at the party, lounging by the pool, perhaps getting ready to change into the new swimsuit she just bought at Korvettes for $2.98 and jump right in.
Once upon a time, this game cost ten bucks
They had a bunch at Sears and Bellas Hess
Now it sets you hundreds back on eBay
Please give us back the days when it cost less
Those were the days, my friend...
Due to the fact that the '70s marked the end for most of the discount stores mentioned here, and I didn't even have a camera back then, my visual resources for this site are very limited. Although Sam's Bargain Town had their heyday in the '50s, '60s and probably the '70s, all photos shown here were taken in the '80s; it wasn't too long after that that Sam's called it quits (the Raytown store was eventually demolished with a new supermarket replacing it on the lot).
Needless to say, I'd love to get my hands on some old vintage photos of these types of stores from 30 to 40 years ago, including the building exteriors and interiors, and the parking lot signs, both in daylight and lit up at night, especially in color. There have been books published illustrating design changes over the years in supermarkets, drive-in restaurants and gas stations, and it is my fervent hope and belief that at least a few individuals out there were resourceful enough to gather stacks of color or black-and-white shots of many of these long-gone discount stores while they had the chance, retaining them in case someone wanted to create a lavishly-illustrated book on the subject.
Remember the Family Guy episode where Peter and Lois Griffin were in need of a new mattress for their bed? They drove down to their local Quahog mattress dealer and, after deciding on which one to buy, the salesman caught Lois using her cell phone to find the same mattress going for less on an online store's site. She bought it from the online dealer instead and arranged to have it delivered via drone to their house. As the Griffins left the store and drove home, Peter shouted, "Real stores suck!" to the incensed salesman.
Sadly, this looks to be where we're all headed in real life. Shopko and Best Buy closed in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 2017, Radio Shack is also in the process of leaving the city as I write this, Mall Of The Bluffs--which was bursting with stores and shoppers in 1990 when I first moved here--is a veritable ghost town now, scores of Kmart and Sears stores keep shutting down year after year, and Amazon.com and eBay invariably end up being the places we have to go to buy things that used to be available in our own local stores...what remain of them.
The late, great 1960s discount stores never had those problems. They were a LOT more fun to go to and buy from. And the toy departments were much more exciting to we former kids, with their stacks of big plastic Ideal and Milton Bradley games designed by past geniuses such as Marvin Glass and Sid Sackson. Now the game sections at Target and Walmart are dull as dishwater to browse through--nothing but umpteen variations of Monopoly, Sorry! and Clue. Even Mouse Trap isn't the classic it used to be anymore.
The way things are going, people will avoid their real stores completely, buying everything online and will have to wait for it all to be delivered. Listen, folks: I love and use my computer as much as you do, but lots of times I need something right away; what if I can't wait to get it? We need some big discount stores--even 1974 was a better retail year than these days...and that was a year I'd sooner forget, for personal reasons.
--David P. Johnson
April 7, 2017