French Market

(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 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 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".

This badly-wrinkled ad shows how much several sale items were going for at our old Cook's store, just a few weeks before we moved out of Kansas City in 1972.

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...


This site needs your help!

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.

Are you one of these select few? Or do you know someone who once ardently pursued this eclectic hobby--or who had a stake in one of these smaller, older chains and thus might naturally have a number of select photos? If so, please don't hesitiate to e-mail me. I'd love to add more photos to this site if they're the type I could really use to enhance it. I'll accept pictures of both discounters I grew up with and didn't. I can't wait to see whatever vintage color pics of the old Spartan or Giant Store parking lot signs might be stashed in someone's attic right now. If anyone can make these or other similar shots available to me, I'll add them on and acknowledge the donors.

Remember, all you fans of discount department stores of years gone by...this site is yours to enjoy. Please help it grow, if you can.

Another great site devoted to 1960's-era businesses and signage is Roadside Peek, where you will find, among other things, one of the earliest L.A. area Fedco department stores--glad I was directed to it!


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