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Sears Roebuck Building

Photograph taken at the grand opening of Sears Roebuck on May 5, 1949

 

     On May 5, 1949, Mayor Herbert H. Baxter joined civic leaders, including Charlotte Chamber of Commerce president  J. Norman Pease, and Sears officials at opening day, ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a large Sears Roebuck and Co. retail store and parking lot on North Tryon St.[1]   Sears officials explained at a  private banquet held the night before  at the Queen Charlotte Hotel that the new Charlotte store was part of a major expansion into the South that Sears had launched immediately after World War Two.   R. E. Wood, chairman of the board of Sears, explained that the company’s  expansion “had been planned several years ago and that as of V. J. day, the concern decided to go ahead with it.” The Charlotte Observer quoted  Jackson F. Moore, a Sears official from Atlanta, as saying that Charlotte had been selected for a new store “after a careful analysis of the opportunities which it offers for business growth.”[2]

Mayor Herbert Baxter cutting the ribbon opening Sears for business.

    Two searchlights were placed in the parking lot to draw attention to the building while the banquet guests toured the new Sears Store that same night. A special feature of the interior décor was a mural painted by Chicago artist Eugene Montgomery depicting major events in the history of Mecklenburg County.  Historian LeGette Blythe had advised Montgomery on the project.  “As the guests toured the building, they heard played on a wire recorder accounts of various historical highlights, interspersed with music,” reported the Charlotte Observer.[3]

    Mayor Baxter cut the ribbon opening the new store, which was managed by W. S. Lupo, with scissors engraved with the words, “Sears Charlotte.  1949.”  Baxter drew special attention to the ample parking that Sears had provided for their customers.  “Here we have been worrying about the parking problem downtown,” he said.  “And these smart people come in and provide a parking lot for 600 cars.”  Throngs of enthusiastic shoppers meandered through the store throughout the day.   Cars jammed the parking lot, and off-duty policemen were hired to direct the traffic.  Guy Lombardo, a nationally-known musician, visited the music department and autographed his phonograph records.[4]

    These photographs show the dramatic transformation from and urban to suburban model.

     The architecture of the building was similar to that used in other new stores that Sears was opening in the South.[5]  The architect of the Sears store was the firm of Schutz and Armistead of Atlanta, Ga.6 Meager in terms of exterior ornamentation, the building, like Sears stores throughout the country, was fashioned from the inside out, meaning that its essential form resulted from the need to market and display merchandise.  The relocation of Sears from its former location on South Tryon St. to the new site on North Tryon St. represented the introduction of an essentially suburban model into uptown retailing. That effort was doomed to ultimate failure, because uptown Charlotte retailers could not provide the amenities, especially the amount of parking, available in the suburbs.

    



[1] Charlotte Observer, 6 May, 1949.

[2] Charlotte Observer, 5 May, 1949.

[3] Ibid.  The historic mural was moved to the library of South Mecklenburg High School when Sears Roebuck vacated the building.  It is still there.

[4] Charlotte Observer, 6 May, 1949.

[5] This writer visited the Sears Store in Winston-Salem as a child.  The architectural design is similar, causing one to believe that Sears hired architects to develop similar styles for their stores.

6.  Charlotte News, June 23, 1946.