If your memories of Kmart include the smell of freshly popped corn and a flashing blue light, then you will probably enjoy this walk down memory lane of super cool places St. Louisans often shopped. Most of these places are long gone, but a few still hold on with online-only stores… which is
just not the same shopping experience we all enjoyed! Read below to be transported back to the past.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Stix Baer and Fuller
This store operated from 1892 to 1984, with the first store on Washington Avenue taking up the entire block. Like many long-time retailers, they sold a variety of goods, but had an emphasis on a little higher priced and better quality items. They ultimately sold to Dillard's when they became unable to compete with prices to stay competitive.
2. Circuit City
This not-so-long-ago store was a go to place for all cool electronics. There was always an expensive variety of electronics, and the stores always seemed a little darker than they needed to be. Perhaps to help all of the electronics "glow?" Another thing Circuit City is less fondly remembered for was the restocking fee on returns. This was never a good idea!
One of the very first five and dime stores, Woolworths was also one of the first stores to put items out for people to touch and buy. When Woolworths started in 1879, it was the custom for the shopkeeper to get the items from behind the counter - similar to a modern bar. This selling feature and the low prices made Woolworths a favorite for generations. It's wasn't always the best quality, but it was perfect for things you had to buy on a budget.
4. Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin stores are still open, but aren't many left these days. Starting as a five and dime store, Ben Franklin was middle-of-the-line in quality, and stores were often smaller than their competitors, making it hard to compete. At some point, they became a craft supply store, though some do still carry a wide selection of buy-the-piece candy and other hard to find sweets.
This icon of mall stores was the anchor for most mega-malls across America. Long before malls were a shopping destination, the Downtown St. Louis Famous-Barr drew people from all over the city to shop and to see the creative window displays here.
Famous-Barr enjoyed a long period of success with a wide range of products and a huge selection of clothes, but like many stores in the age of the internet, similar quality products for a much lower prices could be found online.
Shopping at a Venture store was much like shopping at a modern Wal-Mart, only you could find everything you wanted and you didn't have to walk six blocks inside the store to get it! Did you "save with style" or "see what a little money can buy" at a Venture store? Do you remember their old advertisements?
Opened in 1956 and eventually spreading across the county, Zayre was a deep discounter selling inventory akin to the original Ben Franklin, but with more fashion choices in their clothing department. Zayre closed all stores in 1990.
8. Radio Shack
does still have stores, as well as an online store, but gone are the days when there was a Radio Shack in every neighborhood where you could take your broken electric device and find a fix. The Radio Shacks we grew up with were places filled with extremely knowledgeable people who loved helping those us of less versed in all things electrical.
9. B. Dalton
Another sure stop on a mall visit was B. Dalton bookstore. There was nothing fancy at this store, but you could always find a great deal on books... which was ultimately their downfall. The deep discounts they always offered kept revenue low and, in the end, they just couldn't compete with the larger book stores.
10. Sharper Image
The Sharper Image store was probably the coolest store ever to visit. Things here were state-of-the-art and usually completely unnecessary. The store is still in operation as an online retailer with a focus on electronic products for the home. They do still have interesting gadgets, but sadly, no place nearby you can try it before you buy it.
11. 905 Liquor Store
For anyone who remembers the 905 Liquor Store, you'll be happy to know there are still a few 905s around... but you'll have to go to Arkansas to find them. The 905 Liquor Store in St. Louis opened shortly after Prohibition ended and was the place to go when you needed beer, but were light on cash. It was a full service liquor store, beyond the beer they made with the iconic image of Saint Louis.
12. National Supermarkets
National Supermarkets were once some of the largest grocers in the country and had slogans like "Super-Nation Market" and "The Underpricer." The last slogan seemed to add to their eventual shuttering when they, like so many other larger retailers when business slows, started cutting prices to keep customers. Unfortunately, the resulting revenue was too low to keep the company in operation.
13. Grandpa Pigeons / GrandPa's
An exhaustive search yielded few images of this beloved St. Louis store, but we had to include this old St. Louis favorite - so here's a photo of a
real grandpa instead! Founded in 1954, GrandPa Pigeons and GrandPa's offered steep discounts on products. These stores were a fixture in St. Louis for decades. Many people also have fond memories of working at GrandPa's stores!
14. Montgomery Ward
Montgomery Ward offered products similar to Sears, which was their main rival in department store sales. Montgomery Ward sold quality products that lasted, but did you know they are also responsible for the creation of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" in 1939? Back in these days, department stores gave away items when you visited, especially around the holidays, and this coloring book created by Robert May was one of these promotional items.
15. Scruggs Vandervoort Barney
Another St. Louis born retailer, Scruggs Vandervoort Barney sold products much in line with the original Famous-Barr... but with increased prices. They created beautiful window displays that people from all over St. Louis would come to see. They took over Mermod Jaccard King Jewelry Company and continued business for years under this retail name.
Borders bookstores were huge! Unlike B. Dalton, where you went when you
actually wanted to buy a book, you could go to Borders and spend hours perusing the inventory with a cup of coffee. Also unlike B. Dalton, Borders were almost always an anchor store, so if you did buy books, you didn't have to lug them through the mall back to you car. The company is one of the more recent to close its doors; they filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2011.
17. Shoppers Fair
This department store sold a variety of items and is another store people remember fondly. This no frills stores were normally large with plenty of inventory, and the discounts here were in line with Kmart.
18. Blockbuster Video
Blockbuster Video stores were the place to go for newly released movies before you could order them right from your TV. Going to rent movies was a fun experience, but you had to get there early on new release days or you would find your movie had already been snagged by someone else! Another drawback of renting a movie was the need to get it back the next day... or risk being charged again.
Blockbuster opened many stores during their heyday and put many mom n' pop shops out of business; however, during all that expansion, they failed to keep up with the changes in technology and closed most stores by 2014.
Do you remember these stores? Do you have another great store to share? Please do in the comments below!
For other historic St. Louis places, check out this list of
St. Louis neighborhoods that will transport you to the past.