Friday, January 25, 2019

Sears #2245 - Melbourne, FL - Back in the Good Old Days

Sears #2245
1050 S. Babcock St., Melbourne, FL

     This Sears store opened in 1968, coinciding with the opening of the neighboring (now dead) Brevard Mall, which featured Montgomery Ward and JCPenney as anchors (more on that here, though). In 2015, this store was sold to Seritage Properties as part of SHC's controversial REIT deal, which is typically not a good sign for the long-term future of a Sears or Kmart store. Even with that being the case, this Sears location was supposedly a "Top 200" store from what a few employees told me, citing this Sears location had particular strong sales in clothing. As usual, Eddie doesn't care about any of that, and this Sears store was marked for closure during SHC's initial bankruptcy filing in October 2018. Liquidation sales had begun here in late October 2018, with the store closing for good on January 6, 2019 at 1:45pm.

     As you may have heard me mention quite a few times now, the Melbourne Sears store is no more as of early 2019. As a rather nice example of 1960's department store architecture, it was sad to see this store close. While Sears was never a store I went to much growing up, I actually began to grow a fondness for this particular location in Melbourne. I found myself in here more times than I thought I would living in Southern Brevard County these last few years, and the clothing they sold here was actually pretty decent. If you played your SYW points right, you could score some really good deals here. I was quite saddened to hear of this store's closure late last year, which will bring SHC's presence in Brevard County down to a single full-line Sears location at Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island. I was convinced the Merritt Island store was going to go before this one, as the Merritt Square store seemed much more dead than this location. But it is SHC after all, and their closure decisions never make much sense...

     However, the purpose of this post isn't going to be about this store's closure. Today I'm going to feature the few photos I took of this store way back in 2014. I can assure you more coverage of this store will be coming to My Florida Retail before too long, as I have four more posts coming your way in the next few weeks documenting this store's demise. So let's go back to the good old days and see what was happening at the Melbourne Sears store in 2014:

     Department stores from the 1950's and 1960's used some rather interesting architecture. While there were stores designed more elaborately than this Sears, the funky 60's design of this place still holds a timeless charm. Can't you just picture the 1960's script-style Sears logo where the current sign is now? I sure can! I'd love to see what this place looked like back when it first opened. So yes, as you can tell, I'm quite a fan of the exterior design of this store, which makes this store's closing that much more of a shame. Also, it's not very often anymore that you see a suburban freestanding Sears store anymore, as most of these freestanding locations would later move to anchor malls in the later part of the 20th Century or just close outright. And to answer your other question, yes, that is a real tree growing to the left of the front door. You don't see that often at the department store! In my research, I've only ever come across one other Sears store that looked similar to this one, that being the long abandoned Sears in Meridian, MS. I can only assume this store also had those lattice panels lining the front of the building as well back in the day, probably removed during a 90's remodel. Otherwise, this store and the Meridian one were essentially identical. If you know of any other Sears locations that looked like this one, please let me know!

     The distinctive 60's architecture continues along the right side of the building, where the awning covers the two side entrances into this building. The entrance on the left goes into the Women's clothing department, with the door on the right leading into Men's clothing.

     Here's a closeup of the front entrance into the store, as well as the Sears sign and that tree growing under the awning (which I'm sure has to be trimmed every once and a while so it doesn't try to grow through the roof!). As styertowne commented, "This is a great-looking Sears building AFB! I love that honeycomb design." The architecture is really what makes this particular store great, although overall it was a pretty decent Sears store even in its later days.

     The merchandise pickup entrance can be seen here, located on the back left side of this building. These doors would take you into a small waiting area with a digital kiosk to pickup orders. Beyond the kiosk was another door you could pass through to get to the main salesfloor. However, we'll see more of the merchandise pickup area in future posts from this store.

     The left side entrance into the main store can be seen here, also featuring some trees next to the building. This door would lead shoppers into the housewares and shoe departments. Yes, this building has a lot of entryways! In addition to the 5 entryways used up until this store's closure, there were two more that were closed off over the years, but again, more on those in future posts.

     Now that we've seen a short overview of this store's exterior, we'll begin to make our way toward the main entrance. This photo looks down the store's front walkway, the main entrance hidden behind those trees. You also have to love the zig-zaggy roof over the walkway too!

     At the front doors, we have two different eras of Sears being featured prominently here: Hello, Melbourne. See what we have in store for you! Because remember, at Sears, Roebuck & Co., satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back. For this store's entire 50 years in operation, the classic Sears window inscription graced the front entrance of this place. However, the early morning glare makes it a bit hard to see the old Sears window inscription. As much as I tried to get a decent photo of the inscription during my multiple liquidation visits, the glare was never in my favor 😢

     Before we get to the interior photos, here's a map of the store I found hanging on the wall to give everyone a general idea of the layout (which is extremely confusing to try to describe). The layout here is pretty odd, with lots of little corridors and alcoves in all the departments. While strange, all those little corridors and alcoves made this a fun store to shop in. This store goes back pretty far too. According to the Brevard County property appraiser, the building itself is 104,000 square feet (but that is also including backroom space). For a general explanation of this store's layout, the clothing departments are located in the front portion of the store (right side of the map), with mattresses and small appliances in the left side, large appliances and electronics in the middle right, and tools and outdoors items in the back portion of the store. If you click on the above photo and zoom in, you can see a bit more detail. As andsome96 commented, "The layout of this store reminds me of the one at Ft. Myers' Edison Mall (1965), with the only real difference being that the "Concourse" that contains the Optical, Portrait Studio, etc. in that store is located in the corner between the North & West entrances." The Sears at the Edison Mall actually looks like it could have been of a similar design to the now former Melbourne store when it opened, as the two buildings are of a similar shape with entrances in roughly the same places. Click here for a look at the Edison Mall Sears (which I believe is still open as of early 2019).

     Moving into the right side of the store, here we see the men's clothing department, looking down the main aisle toward appliances. One of the right side entrances into this store is immediately to my right. Most of these really old interior photos from the Melbourne Sears store are confined to the back portion of the building. The front part of the store was crawling with employees during this visit. Every time I would take my phone out for a picture an employee would pop out of somewhere. This place was definitely well staffed, a bit unusual for a Sears, even in 2014! However, my more experienced retail photographer self remedied that problem during my return visits in late 2018 and early 2019, where we'll see plenty of photos from the front of the store coming to the blog (and then some, so yes, everybody brace yourself for a lot of photos in the future from this place! This post is your warning 😁).

     Jumping over to the left side of the store we find the mattress and vacuum departments. Another thing to point out is this store was always very well kept, and I've never seen much merchandise out of place during my trips to this store. That held true all the way until the store's end, as even the liquidation trashing was surprisingly minimal here.

     Another view of the mattress department here. As Devin Blackwood commented, "Looks like a nice store. The floor tiles pair well with the merchandise." The tiles really did pair well with the color schemes of the mattresses, although I'm not sure if that was Sears' full intent or not!

     More mattresses, with the small appliances visible in the background here.

     Navigating our way though the mattress department, we find luggage and the beginnings of the hardware department. Hardware was located in the very back of this store, alongside seasonal and sporting goods.

     Here is a look across the back of this store, looking toward hardware from the seasonal/sporting goods departments. This was also one of very few Sears stores I can recall seeing bicycles for sale.

     The back right corner of the store was home to the seasonal department, home to grills and other outdoor furniture at the time I took these photos.

     This strange narrow, dark corridor is what connects the hardware, seasonal, and sporting goods departments with the (then) electronics and appliances department. The bulletin board to my right was full of positive comments from customers about the employees at this store, I guess to make them feel appreciated and more motivated to serve customers. As Retail Retell commented, "They certainly could use that these days..."

     Stepping out of that corridor and turning to the left, here's a look across the appliance department toward electronics. You know this is an old photo when you can see a Sears store will a full electronics department still! In the year or so after this photo was taken, the electronics department was removed entirely (with the exception of a Consumer Cellular kiosk and a small shelf of cables). The electronics space was filled with more appliances. At least this store found something to fill the old electronics department with, as some Sears stores had a much harder time with that, leaving mostly empty gaping holes where their electronics departments once were. When this photo was taken, there was also a small section of furniture over by the TVs. When the electronics department was removed, the furniture department was moved over where the mattresses were kept and the selection was expanded.

     This photo is similar to the one we saw above, just taken a bit deeper into the appliance department.

     Leaving appliances, we emerge once again into the men's clothing department. This photo was taken looking into the front of the store, where the jewelry counter and women's clothing were located. However, we'll see more from that part of the store in my future posts documenting this store's closing.

     "This isn't goodbye", Sears said desperately, "We need you to come back, we really need you!!" As Retail Retell commented, "[That's] flickr's cry to you as well, AFB :("

     "This isn't goodbye" seems more like the final line in a horror movie than a way to thank your shoppers for coming into your store. Or maybe it's just a desperate plea for help. Either way, it always seemed strange to me when I see that sign at Sears (and even some Kmart stores). Although, staying true to the sign, this isn't quite goodbye yet with our tour of this Sears. Next up in this post will be some photos of the Auto Center out front, and hopefully one day I can get back here and get some better interior photos since I missed quite a lot here. As Retail Retell commented as well, "[That sounds almost] prophetic, here." Even though it took the announcement of closure to finally motivate myself to return for those better photos, I am going to stay true to those words.

     Anyway, stepping back outside, here we see the busy Sears Auto Center. The Melbourne Sears Auto Center was detached from the main store, situated at the front of the property right against busy Babcock Street. This store's auto center also featured Avis Car Rental and Budget Truck Rental services in addition to the usual auto repair services.

     Here's a closeup of the auto center's signage and auto bays. While the main Sears store might have looked dead at times, the Melbourne Sears Auto Center was always a busy place all the way until the end. There were always cars lined up outside this place waiting for service. With how busy this place was, I'm surprised this auto center wasn't spared from closure (which has happened in the past with the freestanding auto centers before).

     The main lobby of the auto center can be seen to my left. However, looking at that canopy and the islands out front, that leads me to a question: Did Sears ever sell gas? The set-up you see here seems very reminiscent of a gas station, with those islands looking like they could have once housed gas pumps many years ago. I don't recall seeing this kind of set up at any other Sears I've been to, although I have to admit I have looked closely at too many other Sears Auto Centers in the past. l_dawg2000 provided some insight into my question in this response: "The Sears [Auto Center] at Southland Mall in Memphis once had a big canopy in front just like this (thanks for bringing back the memories!), and opened a year or two earlier than this one. In fact, it looks like this Auto Center and the one in Memphis may of been built from the same blueprints! (Stores themselves, not so much). The front canopy at the Memphis location was removed many years ago (90's or early 2000's), and now there are parking spaces out front. As far as gas sales, this would of been before my time, but I saw some vintage toy Sears Auto Centers online, complete with gas pumps. It would stand to reason these late-60's locations first had gas pumps, but they must have been removed quite early, at least in the case of Memphis. Southland Mall was once the retail nerve center of the area where I grew up, and I had been by that location probably on a weekly basis in my childhood years in the early-mid 70's. But hard as I try, I don't remember that location ever selling gas during that time period. Here's what the Southland Mall Sears Auto Center looks like present day, you can see the resemblance, even in the way the parking lot is set up to this Melbourne location:"

     While that's all I have right now, trust me, there will be plenty more to come from the Melbourne Sears store in the near future, with plenty more photos of the awesome 1960's architecture and more commentary on the store itself.

For those of you reading this post... when I first started helping AFB move content from flickr over here to the blog, I wasn't aware that any of these silly closings I've been writing would see the light of day... but now that I've been subjected to obscure Publix questions and Florida-themed home accent purchases, I come into this post knowing better regarding the platform I've been given :P  So I wanted to take a moment here to say I've been happy to help AFB in his relocation process, and I wish both him and all of you who may have formerly called flickr home the best of luck in your new endeavors. (Be sure to let us know where we can find you!) As only an "honorary" Floridian, I can't claim to add much value here, but all of my fellow (genuinely Floridian) My Florida Retail contributors make this blog's future seem very promising as one awesome, central source for all things Florida retail. I hope you'll continue to join them as they all supply the blog with great new content. And likewise, as you've probably gathered by now (since AFB himself has said exactly that, in the paragraph immediately above this one no less!), this post in particular serves as a preview for AFB's return to new content in his next MFR post, which I, for one, am very excited to see. I imagine y'all are, too :)

So... be sure to stick around for that, and until we meet again,

Retail Retell

Kmart #3469 - Melbourne, FL

Kmart #3469
850 N. Apollo Boulevard, Melbourne, FL - Apollo Sarno Shopping Center

     This Kmart opened in 1978 and closed during Kmart's first round of mass closings in 1994. The fact this store is located a bit off the beaten path from most of the area's other retail districts probably led to its early demise. Currently this building is divided up for smaller tenants, with Planet Fitness taking up the largest space and a thrift store and antique mall in the remaining portions of the building.

     After bombarding everyone with a bunch of my old photos from flickr over the last few weeks, it's about time I get around to posting some semi-new content on My Florida Retail for a change! We first saw the old Melbourne Kmart on my flickr account back in my early days. The only photos in this post that I ever posted to flickr are the first four we'll be seeing in this today, taken in February 2014 (5 years ago now!). All the other photos we'll be seeing today were either stuffed in my archives for the last few years, or were just taken in the last few days in order for me to provide you with a comprehensive tour of this former Kmart. (Me posting photos only a few days after they were taken - that's an AFB first!). Anyway, back in 2014, this former Kmart still looked very much like a Kmart. Since this store closed in 1994, Kmart never altered the metal awning above the entryway or bricked in the windows that ran along the front of the store. Also, this store even retained the original entryway setup consisting of three sets of manual doors next to each other. It's vintage 70's Kmart at it's finest, even after being subdivied multiple times!

     It was pretty impressive that this place stayed looking so original for over 20 years. There's no denying that a Kmart once operated here!

     Here's a closeup of Kmart's original entryway and awning, now used by Planet Fitness. This Planet Fitness draws a good crowd to this plaza, which is filled mostly with thrift stores and a Dollar General these days. While this particular intersection of Apollo Boulevard and Sarno Road has faltered as a retail destination, it has become a hub for thrift stores and other junk shops.

     Going around the side of the building, we find the abandoned (at the time I took these photos) Kmart Auto Center, still perfectly preserved with all the old auto bays in-tact.

     Peeking through one of the garage door windows, this is what we see. The open door in front of us was the main access from Kmart's salesfloor into the auto bays. The large opening to my right was carved out after Kmart closed so this part of the building could be used as more salesfloor space.

     Moving away from the auto center, there was a glass door located next to it. This photo was taken looking through that door into the right side of the old Kmart, where we see not only a trailer, but also a famous Kmart air diffuser. When I took these photos in 2014, this space had most recently been home to Appliance Direct, who as usual did very little to this space after they moved in to removed that Kmart feel.

     However, in 2016, much of that original Kmart charm had come to an end here in Melbourne. I was driving by this plaza one day and glanced to my right. What did I see by the Kmart awning had been stripped away! In 2016, Planet Fitness began a remodel to their portion of the old Kmart, which would later involve a complete reconstruction of the entryway and a removal of the old Kmart awning. On an interesting note, I was able to capture a picture of this building with the skeleton of the awning still up - certainly a rare sight to see!

     Jumping ahead to 2019, this is what the Kmart building looks like now. While Planet Fitness redid the facade of their portion of the building, the rest of the building remains as it did back in 2014. Kmart's original windows survived Planet Fitness's remodel too, however the doors were replaced and reconfigured during all of the construction.

     Unlike the situation in 2014, in 2019 we'll actually be able to go inside of this Kmart for a look around. To begin out interior tour, we'll go into the business occupying the far left side of this Kmart: Village Thrift Store (whose entrance is under that awning on the left side of this photo).

     Walking into the Village Thrift Store, this is what we see looking toward the back of the building. Prior to Village Thrift Store opening in this space, this part of the old Kmart was home to an athletic training school.  This part of the building still had a slight Kmart feel, although the removal of the large air diffusers in this part of the building really killed off much of the strong Kmart vibe.

     Not a whole lot to see in here...

     Before we head to the other side of the building, here's a small retail relic I found poking through the board games at Village Thrift Store. The board game in question was Jeopardy! 10th Edition from 1972 (long before Alex Trebek even knew he'd be hosting a version of this game on TV). Anyway, the retail relic pictured on the side of this box - What is a sticker from Venture?! (See, I made sure I remembered to answer in the form of a question!). Those stripes jumped out at me when I first grabbed this box - classic Venture! Venture never had a presence in Florida, so this game probably found its way here when a Midwesterner moved to Florida.

     Anyway, leaving the Village Thrift Store, we find ourselves nearing the opposite end of the building and the newly relocated Wildwood Antique Mall.

     But before we head inside the antique mall, here's another look across the front of the old Kmart building in its current form. It's just not the same anymore without the awning, but at least we still have the distinctive ribbed concrete up here to show off that Kmart past.

     While the Wildwood Antique Mall has an entrance on the front of the building, their main entrance is actually this one on the side of the building next to the old auto center. As you'd expect from an antique mall, they did nothing to cover over the presence of the old auto center. Up until November 2018, the Wildwood Antique Mall was located across the street in the old Melbourne Food Lion store. It was fun walking around the antique mall when it was in that old Food Lion, trying to imagine what that place looked like back in the supermarket days. However, now in the old Kmart, there are some interesting things to be found in here too. Let's go inside and see some of them...

     Unlike the old location of the antique mall, which was laid out in mostly neat rows, the odd L-shaped layout of the former Kmart space makes this place a bit of a maze to walk through. The above photo was taken looking in the direction of the antique mall's main entrance (the one on the side of the building).

     I don't even remember what direction this photo was taken in. All the rows of booths and random stuff is pretty disorienting looking back at the pictures. It's somewhere on Kmart's old salesfloor though - I believe looking toward the partition wall between the antique mall and Planet Fitness.

     Of course I had to get a photo prominently featuring one of the giant air diffusers in it 😀 The diffuers in here were actually quite shiny and polished, so either they're new or someone actually decided to clean them for a change!

     This photo was taken near the back of the main salesfloor, looking toward the front of the building.

     The back wall of the antique mall can be seen here. Behind this wall was stockroom space when Kmart was here, which the antique mall expanded into as space for more vendor booths.

     Popping into the old backroom space, here we find some stairs that lead up to a small (now unused) mezzanine level. I think that mezzanine level was used as storage space when Kmart was here.

     One of the receiving doors in the back of the building.

     A dark and eerie corridor in the back of the building. It looked like there were offices of some kind back here, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the corridor where Kmart's layaway counter was located back in the day. Also, above the hallway I spy another Kmart relic. That covered rectangular hole above the hallway was once home to a small window. Behind that window would have been a small platform that store security could use to look out over the store in the days before surveillance cameras. If you go inside a 70's Kmart today, you can usually still spot these windows.

     One of the vendor's booths was set up to look like an old-fashioned kitchen from the 1930's or 1940's, complete with a bunch of antique kitchen supplies filling the cabinets. My parents, even to this day, still collect and use antique kitchen kinckknacks, so a lot of the antique kitchen gadgets you see here can be found floating around my house still in use!

     Kitchen kinckknacks aside, here's my retail find of the day from the Wildwood Antique Mall to show to everyone. For the Northeasterners in the room, here's a semi-used tube of Pathmark brand Zinc Oxide Ointment. What is this ointment used for, you ask? According to Google, zinc oxide ointment is useful in treating diaper rash, chapped skin, and other minor skin irritations. If you were to use this ointment to treat your rash today, I think it would make you break out in hives since it's probably 30 years old! (At that point, you'd have to go to Walgreens to buy a new bottle of zinc oxide ointment to cure the irritation caused by this really old zinc oxide ointment!). I merely took this photo for documentary purposes, as I didn't want to spend $2 on really old ointment. You have to admit though, that Pathmark logo is timeless.

     The most interesting part of walking around the new Wildwood Antique Mall had to be walking around the old Kmart auto center, which is home to more vendor booths now. Here we see inside the old auto center from the large archway that connects it to the main salesfloor.

      To my right you can see the old garage doors. The garage doors are still operational, and according to the signs posted on them, vendors are allowed to use the garage doors to bring large items into the antique mall.

     Here's one final look at the garage doors from the inside before heading outside once again... see the garage doors one last time, but from the outside. The sign for the antique mall that you see above the garage doors is the exact sign that graced the front of the old store across the street, seen here. Why buy a new sign when you can just transport your perfectly good old one across the street? I like the way the sign is positioned above the auto center doors, reminiscent of how an old "Kmart Auto Center" sign would be been situated.

     To the left of the old Kmart building is this space. Located at 800 N. Apollo Boulevard, this was the longtime home to the Melbourne Salvation Army store from 2003 until 2014, when they moved to a more prominent location along US 192. A few other thrift stores tried to open in this space after the Salvation Army moved out, although none of them lasted very long. Originally, this space was home to an Eckerd drugstore, which had to have closed sometime in the 1990's.

     Lastly, to conclude this post, we go immediately next door from the Apollo Sarno Shopping Center to find this building. Located at 680 N. Apollo Boulevard, this building was home to the original Melbourne Lowe's store. This Lowe's, which was store #231, opened in 1981 and would later be replaced by the modern sized Lowe's at the corner of Minton Road and US 192 in 1998. This Lowe's was built in the chain's early days, back in simpler times before the era of the "Home Improvement Superstore". While this building isn't very wide, it goes back pretty far. Around back is a separate building that once housed a lumber yard too. While this building looks vacant (considering the lack of cars in the lot and lack of signage on the building), this building is actually occupied. The US Postal Service actually uses this place as a regional sorting facility for mail going into and out of Florida's Space Coast. The lack of cars here is because I took this photo on a Sunday, when the facility is closed. While I'm sure the post office modified the inside of this building, the exterior is original to the Lowe's days. The post office even repainted the building blue too, which makes this place seem even more Lowe's like! (Before the post office took over this building, it was painted all white). These old Lowe's stores are pretty intriguing, and quite a few from this era can still be found floating around Florida in mostly original form.

     Anyway, that's all I have for this post. It won't be too much longer now before I can start to bring everyone more new content to My Florida Retail on a regular basis.

So until the next post,