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Newberry's store courtesy BPL Archives

The J. J. Newberry Company was a family-owned discount department store chain founded in 1911 by John Josiah Newberry in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The company's Birmingham store was located in the former Saks Building on the northwest corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue North.

Beginning in 1936, Newberry's occupied the building constructed in 1916 for the Louis Saks Clothiers and later used by Melancon's. It shared a small stairway with the neighboring Calder Furniture Co., entered through a narrow Roman-style portico on 2nd Avenue.

Newberry's opened a second location at Eastwood Mall in 1960.

The flagship downtown variety store was expanded and remodeled as a true department store in 1961. The $1.5 million update to the 90,000 square-foot, 6-story building was designed by Miller, Martin & Lewis in association with Edwin McCowan. The Robins Engineering Company performed the construction work. Exterior improvements included the installation of a wrap-around sign and cantilevered sidewalk cover and new vertical signs at the street corner, both backed by an epoxy-coated aluminum cladding system characterized by vertical fins.

Full-page newspaper ad for the remodeled store

The new store featured a 156-seat cafeteria in the basement, in addition to the two ground-floor lunch counters, snack bar and bakery. Apparel, potted plants and artificial flowers filled the remainder of the basement retail space. Toiletries, cosmetics, stationery, camera equipment, jewelry, handbags and accessories filled out the ground floor. A mezzanine displayed men's and boys clothing and shoes. The second floor housed women's, girls' and infants' underwear and outerwear along with women's shoes and designer fashions. The third floor was reserved for fabrics, draperies, bath accessories, artwork and framing, lamps and sewing supplies. The fourth floor contained home furnishings, appliances, housewares, cookware, paints, toys, sporting goods, pets and pet supplies (including monkeys, small honey bears, alligators, lizards, turtles, tropical fish, dogs, cats, parrots, cockatoos, parakeets and mice). The fifth and sixth floors were used for storage.

Britts logo.png

In December 1962, the store was rebranded as Britts of Birmingham, a more upscale version of Newberry's. Britts stocked merchandise purchased by its own New York buyers, but tailored to local preferences. The management placed a premium on customer service. A "Coachlight Cafeteria" was open for lunch and dinner six days a week.

Britts' segregated lunch counter was one of five in downtown Birmingham that were targeted for sit-in demonstrations on April 3, 1963 during the opening days of the Birmingham Campaign. It was the only one of the five locations at which those actions resulted in arrests. 21 demonstrators were taken away by police.

The store, which had signed a 30-year lease on the building, reverted to the Newberry's branding in the 1970s. Newberry's final day of business was January 26, 1995. It had been purchased to make way for the McWane Science Center's IMAX Dome Theater. The vacant building was finally demolished in 1996.