Farewell to the Six Corners Sears

The Sears store at Six Corners—Milwaukee, Cicero, and Irving Park—will be closing soon.  This was the last Sears within the Chicago city limits.  It was also the Sears I had grown up with.

The closing reminded me of a radio commercial from the 1970s. I can’t remember the product that was being sold.  But somewhere in the middle of the sales pitch, the announcer began a sentence by saying, “Next Saturday morning, when you’re at Sears . . .”  As if all Chicago went to Sears on Saturday morning.

Funny thing.  He may have been right.

The Six Corners Sears

In those days there were seven or eight Sears stores in the city. I don’t know whether the store at 63rd-Halsted was still in business.  But besides the Six Corners store, there were Sears at Harlem-North, Western-62nd,  Lawrence-Wolcott,  79th-Kenwood, and State-Van Buren.  The downtown store had particular significance for me.  One of my college buddies was dating a girl who worked there, and she introduced me to her friend, who eventually became my wife.

There was also a small retail store near the giant Sears headquarters at Homan and Arthington. I don’t think I ever shopped at that store, though I often walked through it on my way to a merchandise pickup.  I would select something in the catalogue, phone in the order, and come get it a few hours later—and didn’t have to pay a shipping charge.

Sears complex on Lawrence Avenue (1952)

But back to the Six Corners store. My first memory of it had to be when I was four or five years old.  Our next door neighbor worked in the candy department, and I thought it remarkable to see her behind a counter—it was just as impressive as when I spotted a bigger kid from down the street in the peanut gallery of a TV show.  I also noted that the escalators to the upper floors were narrower than those on the lower floors.  Less customer traffic going up to three and four, of course.

Still, the most fun I had in those days was in the shoe department. They had a machine that helped fit shoes by using x-rays.  Put on the shoes, stick your feet into the slot at the bottom, then look into the viewer to see if your toes had wiggle room.  Of course, that was before anyone knew about the cumulative effect of x-rays on the human body.  Frazzled moms would often tell their whining kids to “Go play in the x-ray machine!”

The Six Corner Sears also had a Hillman’s grocery store in the basement. The grocery opened an hour or so before the Sears, so if you got there early the first floor was roped off, and you went from the outside doors directly down the stairs to the basement.  For me, the best features of Hillman’s were the Scott Peterson hot dogs and Green River soda at the snack bar.  Later, when I got married and money was short, we usually shopped at Hillman’s because it was cheaper than the Jewel or the National.

The Six Corners Sears expands (1972)

The Six Corners Sears opened in 1938. For most of my younger years, the store always seemed to be expanding.  In 1972 they moved the automotive department to a separate building and put an addition on the store.  Later they expanded the parking lot by leveling the whole east side of Kilpatrick Avenue—including the two-flat where my aunt lived.  Eventually Sears forced out Hillman’s and took over the basement.

Then there was the Twelfth Street Store. Sometime around 1970, the owners of that discount store decided to challenge Sears’s Six Corners supremacy.  They built a new facility directly across Irving Park.  It flopped.  The only thing notable about this Twelfth Street Store was the roof-top parking lot, which gave you a dandy view of the surrounding area.

Today I do my Sears shopping at Golf Mill. I get to the Six Corners store only when I’m going to the magazine store across Cicero.  Many of the business of my young years there are gone—Woolworth’s, Northwest National Bank, Robert Hall Menswear, Klein’s Sporting Goods, the record store with the listening booth, the hairdresser my mom hung out at.  The Portage Theater is still with us, though it’s had its own problems.  Now that Sears is leaving, what will happen to Six Corners?

The view from the Twelfth Street Store parking lot

Along with Montgomery Ward’s, Sears popularized mail-order shopping.  In a printed catalogue, you were offered a wide selection of merchandise at a reasonable price.  You made your selections in the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule.  Within a short space of time, your purchases were delivered to your front door.

Does this business model sound familiar?  Move forward to the twenty-first century, and you have Amazon and other companies doing the same thing, but using the internet.

We are told that online stores are killing off brick-and-mortar stores.  If Sears eventually goes down because of this competition, it will be a stunning piece of irony.



4 Responses to “Farewell to the Six Corners Sears”

  1. 1 terrinschmidt2013 May 8, 2018 at 6:05 am

    You didn’t mention the automated Santa in the window at Christmas time!

  2. 2 JAMES F. O'NEIL May 8, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Wonder years ago. As the sun goes down, and the music plays, “Thanks for the memories,…”

  3. 3 Brett Babcock May 8, 2018 at 11:22 am

    It is truly sad to see Sears going under. They were such a fixture in American society. I remember going to the liquidation sales of my local Sears, and it still smelled like popcorn in the front of the store, even though they stopped giving that out 30 years prior! The management of the last 20 years or so has been inept and didn’t keep up with fashions and technology. Now the company is steadily dying as a hedge fund manager slowly sucks every penny of value out of the company.

  4. 4 benson May 8, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Well said, John.

    The North and Harlem store was the Sears of my youth. Always was fun to go there, riding escalators for the first time and the smell of the salted nuts. And in the summer time, it usually was a stop along the way to KiddieLand just down the street.

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