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: goo.gl/maps/jVs5u"
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,