The Rise and Fall of 10 Department Store Chains
A wise man once said there is nothing new under the sun. That may be true, but it’s also true that nothing remains. When it comes to department stores, there are chains that once were part and parcel of U.S. and North American culture but which are no more. The following once-popular department store chains have since merged with another chain, gone out of business, or have simply move on past their prime.
- Foley’s – Headquartered in Houston, Texas, Foley’s was popular in the Southwestern United States. Started in 1900, the chain was acquired by Macy’s in 2005.
- Sanger Harris – Another chain acquired by Macy’s, Sanger Harris formed in 1961 from two independent retail chains known as Sanger Brothers and A. Harris and Co. Sanger Harris lived on until 1987.
- Marshall Field’s – Acquired by Macy’s in 2005, Marshall Field’s operated out of Chicago but grew its operations nationwide before going into slow decline.
- Gottschalks – Once the largest independent publicly-traded department store in the U.S., Gottschalks was headquartered in Fresno, California and had stores in other Western states including Alaska. They went bankrupt and liquidated in 2009.
- Kmart – Kmart is a rebranded name of a previous chain that started in 1899. In 1977, S.S. Kresge Corporation became Kmart and pioneered many modern retailing practices. The company once operated over 2,000 stores nationwide but went bankrupt in 2002. Another bankruptcy in 2018 has resulted in operations being reduced. The chain still operates a couple hundred stores and is owned by Transform Holdco LLC.
- Montgomery Ward – Montgomery Ward was once a staple of American retailing. After World War II, rather than expand operations, Montgomery Ward conserved its capital in expectation of an economic downturn, which didn’t happen and the chain lost market chair to others that responded to growing suburban residential areas.
- Sears, Roebuck and Company – Sears was a major competitor to Montgomery Ward immediately after WWII, but expanded aggressively to become the country’s largest department store chain. Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and now operates a handful of stores remaining a fraction of the size in its glory days.
- Ames Department Stores – Ames once operated 700 stores in 20 states. They went out of business in 2002.
- Woolworth’s – Woolworth’s pioneered the five and dime store. In the early 20th century, the name was synonymous with retail. The retail chain grew and eventually outgrew itself. In 1993, a restructuring reduced its size severely. In 2001, the company rebranded as Foot Locker.
- Mervyn’s – Mervyn’s once had 189 stores in 10 states. In 2008, they liquidated in a Chapter 7 proceeding and closed all stores.
There are any number of reasons why a retail department store can rise and fall. At the heart of it all is remaining competitive. Don’t let your department store lose ground. Fight the good fight to stay alive.