Archive for the 'Department Stores' Category

Christmas Toy Aisle Zen, 1980: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Toys 1980

The caption, via the Birmingham Mail:

Edgbaston twins Antony and Richard Joseph, both aged six, are seen here enjoying the toy department at Lewis’s in Birmingham on December 15, 1980.

Lewis’s was a department store chain in the UK that was in business from 1856 to 1991.

Lovely photo from a time when man-children weren’t snatching up all the Star Wars toys before the kids could get to them.

Sears Tele-Games Demonstration Center, 1977

Sears 1977

Christmas shoppers in Sears waiting for a turn at the “arcade,” via the Billings Gazette. That was a big TV in ’77. See more demo units here and here. Watch a Tele-Games (Atari 2600 clone) commercial from the same year here.

Demo units were extremely important to the early console industry. Many of us were introduced to various games and systems while dad was shopping for tools. The real arcade was usually not too far away, but it wasn’t portable, and it didn’t allow for endless play.

Toy Aisle Zen (Circa 1976): Matchbox Display and Ideal’s Evel Knievel Super Jet Cycle

JC Penney 1976

Super Jet 1976

Super Jet 1976-2

J.C. Penney, somewhere in Baltimore, is the store in the first photo. Toys are on the left.

(Images via eBay, Evel Knievel Stunt Toys, and Yesterville)

Inside J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward, 1973


Women’s clothing


Main aisle at housewares


Housewares, featuring power tools and the `cook ‘n shop’ section


Camera department, with sportswear in the far background on left


Sporting goods and toys


Men’s suits


Furniture department with bar sets

I found the photos at News Tribune Attic, an archive of the Duluth News Tribune. Miller Hill Mall opened in 1973, anchored by J.C. Penney (above) and Montgomery Ward (below). JCP is still there. Ward was replaced by DSW Shoe Warehouse, Barnes & Noble, and Old Navy in 2001.

What I noticed right away was the lavish amount of space, not just in the aisles but in the respective sections themselves. The mall wasn’t just a warehouse of merchandise, but a place of comfort, a journey into the fantasy of the American Dream.

I wish the photos enlarged. The toy section in the fifth shot down stretches out on both sides of the aisle, and I can’t make out a damn thing.

My obsession with shopping malls goes back a ways.


Food court/’buffeteria’


Sporting goods. The sailboat is on sale for $499.88.


Juniors (‘Reflections’) and women’s clothing departments


Kids Playing Atari in Department Store, 1981

Kids Playing Atari 1980

The year is a guess, and the exact location is unknown. I’m going with 1980 because that’s when Intellivision (carts in the glass cabinet on the left) was released nationwide. The Atari 400 and 800 came out in November of ’79, and the Odyssey² came out in ’78. The original Magnavox Odyssey hit shelves in 1972. The ping-pong game that came with it inspired Pong.

I can’t tell what’s playing on the 400, but somebody’s playing Space Invaders on the screen to the far left. It doesn’t look like any of the Atari versions, so maybe my year is off after all. It could be Intellivision’s Space Armada (1981), but there’s more space between the aliens in that game.

UPDATE: The year is at least 1981. Lefty Limbo spotted the Asteroids 2600 cart (1981) on the top row of the front glass cabinet. Title updated accordingly.

(Photo via Historic Images/eBay)

When Kids Knew BEST

Image via Architecture + Branding

Rights reserved by Joe Architect

One of my best friends, J., reminded me of Best Products the other day, specifically the Best catalog (no luck finding one, yet). The store I remember was down the street from the West Covina Fashion Plaza mall, and was easily walkable. Best was the place to hit first for action figures and toys of any kind. First, they tended to be less expensive than other stores. And second, because it was not specifically a kids store like Toys “R” Us, we had a better chance (or thought we did) of finding the good stuff. As I recall, it was also really easy to hide the good stuff somewhere else in the toy aisles and come back later when allowance day rolled around.

Toys were not a company priority, I know now, because Best’s retail model, per Wikipedia, “employed the `catalog showroom’ concept for many of its product offerings. Although some product categories (such as sporting goods and toys) were stocked in traditional self-serve aisles, the majority of products (notably consumer electronics, housewares, and appliances) were featured as unboxed display models. Customers were permitted to examine and experiment with these models, and if found to be desirable, they could be purchased by submitting orders to store personnel. Saleable versions of the merchandise (typically boxed and/or in its original packaging) would then be retrieved from storage and delivered to a customer service area for subsequent purchase.”

Image via Architecture + Branding

Rights reserved by channaher

This last shot makes me sad. Not only because one day I’ll look like this, but because the tactile, do-it-yourself ethic implicit in basic blocks, action figures, marbles, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, Erector Sets, board games, handheld games—is in a similar state of disrepair.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t think our generation is better or purer for having had these things. Our dads had even less props than we did, after all, and I’m sure they found it slightly askew that their sons spent so much time sitting on their asses staging elaborate adventures in which Snake Eyes, after being shot 26 times and drowned in a vat of flesh-eating acid, would somehow put himself back together again and rescue the sex-starved Scarlett from Destro, Darth Vader, the Shogun Warriors, and Godzilla.

Still, it’s sad to see my childhood haunts, one by one, come to such undignified ends.




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