At Beverly and Bedford Avenues in Flatbush is this huge Art Moderne monolith that looks like something straight out of the 1936 movie Things to Come (the third section, where Raymond Massey and his pals, who Know What’s Good For Us, have created a brave new world of automation, telecommunication, space travel and men wearing shorter miniskirts than the women). In this low-rise neighborhood, this stark, sculpted tower, with “Sears, Roebuck and Co.” spelled out in huge blue letters at the top is just a bit disconcerting. When I discovered it on a bike ride in the 1970s, I was amazed: I thought car-choked suburban shopping malls were the precincts of Sears, not two blocks over from the IRT Beverly Road station. But this Sears has been here since 1932 (a photo mounted inside shows First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt turning a ceremonial key to open the store) and was, in fact, the first retail Sears, Roebuck location in New York City.
Sears was founded in 1893 by Richard Sears and Alvah Robuck and pioneered the mail order catalog. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, much of America was still rural and general stores were few and far between, offering a limited selection of goods at higher than generally affordable prices. The rise of the Sears, Roebuck catalog offered people an opportunity to mail order goods at consistent, affordable prices. The widely-distributed catalogs became known as “The Consumers’ Bible.” Alvah Robuck left the partnership in 1895, but returned as an employee of the company in the 1930s after suffering losses in the Great Depression.
Beginning in the 1920s, Sears began to shift its focus to what we now call “big box” retail, a large store that would be located in urban business sections and later, in suburban malls after the rise of the automobile. Sears offices were located in what, for a time, was the world’s tallest building, the Sears Tower in Chicago, beginning in 1974, now known as the Willis Tower.
Sears has declined in recent years as online retail has been on the rise, and planned to close all its remaining stores, including this one, in early 2019 as bankruptcy loomed. The building itself has Landmarks Preservation Commission protection, and will remain in place despite the fate of the store.
1/9/19: It appears that Sears got another last-minute reprieve, but its status continues as endangered.
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