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's furniture store, entered through a narrow Roman-style portico on 2nd Avenue.
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.
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.
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, and became a target a desegregationalists during the 1963 Birmingham Campaign. The store, which had signed a 30-year lease on the building, reverted to the Newberry's branding in the 1970s.
- Beiman, Irving (May 1961) "Newberrys now department store" The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- "Two-fold goal—Store revitalized, architects report" (May 1961) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- "Britts department store ready to open" (December 1962) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Rewound
- White, Marjorie Longenecker (1977) Downtown Birmingham: Architectural and Historical Walking Tour Guide. Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society.
- "Closing after 8 decades: Newberry's site for Omnimax." (January 25, 1995). The Birmingham News
- "Britt's Department Store" (October 16, 2012) Wikipedia - accessed December 2, 2012