Downtown Sears store

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1941 rendering for the downtown Sears store

The downtown Sears store was a retail store operated by Sears Roebuck and Co. in downtown Birmingham from 1936 to 1990.

Sears opened their first Birmingham store in 1936 on the southeast corner of 2nd Avenue North and 18th Street North. Five years later, the store, managed by L. L. Doughton, moved to a new, one-level building occupying Block 95 (between 1st and 2nd Avenues North and 15th and 16th Streets). Their former building was taken over by New Ideal department store.

When it opened in 1941, the new downtown Sears was hailed as the largest single-floor department store in the United States. Officials from Sears Roebuck and Co. in Chicago and the retailer's zone headquarters in Atlanta attended the grand opening on October 13. Though all merchandise and public facilities were located at ground level, the store's general offices, employee lounges, cloak rooms and auditorium occupied a "penthouse" on the second floor.

During World War II, Sears' offerings of appliances and durable goods were curtailed by war demands. Long lines accompanied the reintroduction of "Coldspot" refrigerators and "Silvertone" televisions after the end of the war.

The vacant store property became a late-night gathering place during the early 1990s, earning notoriety as a drug market. Its proximity to the Jaguar Club was blamed for contributing to criminal activity at the nightclub.

The vacant store was acquired by George Barber's Birmingham Realty Company and delays in its possible redevelopment became a sore subject between Barber and Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid. The disagreement was cited when Kincaid declined to support Barber's bid to host MotoGP races at the Barber Motorsports Park.

In 2007 the former retail store was completely renovated as the new home for the Innovation Depot, a business incubator jointly operated by the city and UAB. The facility is an anchor for an "Entrepreneurial District" west of downtown, as envisioned in the 2004 City Center Master Plan.

References