Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sears #1175 - Merritt Square Mall - Merritt Island, FL

Sears #1175
777 E. Merritt Island Causeway, Merritt Island, FL - Merritt Square Mall

     Merritt Square Mall originally opened in 1970, and as of 2019 is anchored by Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Cobb Cinemas, Ollie's Bargain Outlet, and Books-A-Million. Merritt Square’s Sears store opened in February 1989 as part of an expansion to the mall, which included the addition of 192,000 square feet of retail space (including the new Sears building) and a new corridor linking Sears to the existing mall near the Food Court. Sears relocated to Merritt Square from a store dating back to 1964, located across the river in Rockledge. For more details on the history of this mall, please click here!

     At the far western edge of Merritt Square Mall we find a store that is the last of its breed here in Brevard County. As of February 2019, the Merritt Square Sears is the last SHC owned store anywhere in Brevard County, outlasting the full-line Sears stores in Melbourne and Titusville as well as all 7 of Brevard County's Kmart stores, the last of which closed in 2014. Anyway, while the Merritt Island Sears doesn’t make the most striking architectural statement (like the 60’s built Melbourne Sears store did, and many other mid-century Sears buildings across the country too), this store still looks pretty nice. I like the way this photo turned out, probably due to a combination of the lighting from the early afternoon sun, the arched design of Sears’ front entrance, and the flag waving proudly above this once great American retail icon. Compared to some other Sears stores I’ve been to in person and seen photos of online recently, this store appeared to be on the better end of the spectrum for a Sears in the modern day.

     Moving to the opposite end of the building, where we get a closer look at the design of Sears’s main entrance. Is it just me, or does the design of this store’s main entrance have a bit of a Service Merchandise vibe to it? I think it’s the building’s red coloration and the arched windows above the doors that made me think that. Retail Retell agreed with this, saying "I can see that connection. Nice catch! I'm not very familiar with Service Merchandise myself, but at least that linked photo was enough to make the comparison!"

     Here is a different angle to showcase the main entryway into Sears, this time capturing one of Sears’s tiny cart corrals out in the front parking lot. I don’t know if the cart corral and its accompanying sign date back to this store’s opening in 1989, but they both certainly look like they’ve been sitting out here for quite a while!

     This photo, taken from the store’s front walkway, showcases the design of the entryway from a side profile. This glass arch connects the decorative arch with the front of the main building, and makes for a more interesting design.

     “Hello Merritt Island,” we’re greeted as we approach the front doors to the Sears store, “See what we have in store for you.” We will do just as the sign instructs and head inside this place…

     ...however, we’re actually going to enter this store from the mall entrance, which you can see in this photo. It’s not really the most exciting mall entrance in the world, and is a rather typical looking one for Sears.

     Stepping through the mall entrance, we find ourselves in the Women’s apparel department. The jewelry counter is visible in the distance, and Men’s clothing is just barely visible in the far distance where that red wall is.

     Here we’re looking from the jewelry counter back toward the mall entrance (buried somewhere behind all of those clothing displays!). We also get a peek inside the mall itself, which you can see in more detail in my flickr album here. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "This store reminds me of the [now closed] Sears in Altamonte Mall we just recently had chance to visit. Some of these Sears stores seem like they're stuck in the late 90's/ early 2000's." vintagefans also commented about this store, saying, "Yeah, this looks a lot like my store, even though it's 10 years older (89 vs 99). The only difference is my store has real tiles in the clothing department walkways instead of that vinyl tile. The rest of the store (appliances and tools) is vinyl tiles. I want to say this decor might be early to mid 2000s but it could be the original decor in my store and a redo in this store. I don't think this decor looks all that dated though, I mean it doesn't really say 1999 or anything. I wonder what Sears' old decor looked like in 1989? The only other Sears stores I been to were the one in Lakeland, (but I was a kid and too young to remember), the old Sears appliance and tool store in Sebring (which I don't think had much of a decor, really) and the one in Lake Wales, which I think had this same decor, although that store was a bit fancier and bigger, so had other features to it." I agree, this Sears decor isn't bad or dated looking, so at least that helps these stores with their appearance. I really don't know what this store would have looked like back in 1989. I don't think it was anything too elaborate, as I don't remember anything in particular sticking in my mind of what Sears looked like back in the late 90's (when that older look could have still been floating around). The Lake Wales Sears was one of the really nice late 90's prototypes. The Vero Beach Sears is very similar to that store, which has the exposed ceilings over the hardware section. That was a great era for Sears.

     The jewelry counter also serves as the primary checkout station for shoppers exiting through the mall entrance, as designated by the hanging sign you see here. Most of the signage in this place is the common (90’s?) stuff most Sears stores seem to have. During my visit here, this register was closed, and directed anyone wanting to make a purchase to the staffed register in the men’s department near the main exterior entrance (leaving the mall entrance unsupervised, which seems like a bad idea to me!). Retail Retell agreed, saying, "Yeah, that does seem like a rather unusual move!" However, it is Sears, so if it's unusual it must make sense! :) vintagefans also commented about this situation: "That's nuts. This sounds like it's arranged a lot like the Sebring store. Usually they have someone at the jewelry counter and men's as those are both at entrances, as well as tools. Women's is rarely staffed." The men's department was the only fully staffed register this day. Hardware had an employee on the floor who kept running over to that department's register when a customer asked for assistance, but otherwise that was it. I didn't even see any employees in this area, which was strange, considering this is a major point of entry and exit into the store. vintagefans continued, "Yeah, you think they'd keep that mall entrance staffed. I don't know that the slim staff is anything new. I remember going to my Sears a number of years ago (I went with my mom which rarely happens these days) so it was at least 2010 or maybe even 08 or 09 and the store was quite low on staff at the registers then."

     This photo was taken from further back, showing more of the jewelry counter and part of the shoe department in the background. The day I was here there were a few other people patronizing this Sears (such as those ladies admiring the jewelry), but overall it was rather quiet (but I must point out, it was a weekday afternoon when I visited – hopefully things pick up more at this Sears on weekends). Even though much of the store was dead (and Sears was certainly the least patronized of Merritt Square’s anchors this particular afternoon), the hardware department seemed to draw a fair amount of people (and was the busiest part of the sales floor during my visit) and the auto center had a bit of a crowd.

     This photo also looks back toward the mall entrance, this time from deeper into the store. The part of the aisle I was standing in cut through more of the Women’s clothing department, with the Men’s clothing located behind me.

     Tucked away in part of the Women’s clothing department was a nice selection of local souvenir clothing. Since this Sears is located off of the main road to the barrier island upon which Cocoa Beach is located, this Sears carries a variety of Cocoa Beach apparel (in addition to a small rack of other souvenirs over in the main aisle).

     Looking down part of the Women’s clothing department, with the shoe department visible in the background. The wall in the distance (where the shoe department is located) is the front wall of the store, which faces the main road (Route 520).

     Children’s clothing is located in the back center portion of the store, behind Men’s clothing. Girl’s clothing is to my right, with Boy’s clothing to my left. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "The expression on the Minion's face accurately describes my reaction to finding out about the Oaks' Sears closing. I was just in there a few days ago, and it was pretty busy but still plenty of merchandise left." Yeah, that's a fairly accurate expression for such news! vintagefans also went on to comment: "I noticed this store so far seems to be pretty well stocked."

     In a portion of the Girl’s clothing department was this small area with a lower ceiling and some extra columns around it. The design of this area seems to suggest this was home to something else at one time, but I have no idea what (or if anything) was here prior.

     In this photo we’ve left the children’s clothing department, just to find ourselves back in Women’s clothing. This photo was taken toward the back of the store, where the few remaining Sears services are located.

     This hallway leads to the back entrance of the store. Along both sides of this hallway are small spaces for this store’s many former services, which as of 2018, have been reduced to the Sears Optical center (whose sign is visible here), merchandise pickup, and a human resources office. At one time, this store boasted additional services such as a financial services center, a stock brokerage, and an insurance office. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hearing aid center and/or jewelry repair service here too, but I couldn’t find a confirmation on those services (which many Sears stores offer/offered). All of the former Sears services spaces that are no longer occupied are used as additional space for clothing displays.

     Looking from the Sears services corridor back into the main store, where the first department you see upon entering through the back is ladies’ lingerie. To the left you can see one of the repurposed service spaces, that particular one being used for clearance merchandise.

     Yet another photo of the Women’s clothing department, where the jewelry counter and main entrance checkout counter are visible in the distance.

     Traversing through the women’s clothing department to the front of the store, we find ourselves back at the shoe department. In the distance is Men’s clothing, with hardlines (specifically mattresses and housewares) further down this aisle.

     If you were to walk through the front entrance of this store and turn right down the main aisle, housewares and mattresses would be the first two departments you’d run across. In this picture you can see the rather large mattress department in the foreground. To my left (and just out of frame) was a small housewares department with goods such as bedding, pillows, small appliances, etc.

     Beyond housewares and mattresses we find the furniture department. The furniture department is located in the space that was once home to electronics. The electronics department was completely removed at this store (although some Sears locations still have a selection of electronics, shrunken down in some form usually). The selection of vacuums was also expanded into the former electronics space, which can be seen in the background beyond the furniture displays.

     Across from the furniture/former electronics department is the appliance department. From what I understand, appliances are one of Sears’ strongest departments these days. This department also had fancy digital price tags, some of which can be seen in this photo. The appliance department stretched quite a bit to the left from what can be seen here (with mostly washing machines in the foreground) to include refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves, etc. However, there was a very bored appliance salesman hanging around that side of the department, and he kept trying to sell me something every time I walked by. For that reason, I tried my hardest to avoid that part of the department!

     Moving to the back of the store, we find the automotive department. Along the wall near the side entrance were these tire displays, with a few small aisles of automotive products located behind me. I mostly took this picture for the “America’s Car Care Place” sign on the wall. Automotive services are another one of Sears’ stronger areas these days, with some Sears Auto Centers remaining open even after their accompanying stores close. My local Sears auto center is always busy, even if the main store is dead. Even this Sears seemed to have a decent amount of action in the automotive center when I was here. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "We were so disappointed when The Oaks Sears Auto Center closed! My wife's work is a stone's throw from that Sears. She would drop our car off on the way to work, have the oil changed, tires rotated, and pick it back up at lunch. They gave such good courteous service too." It's too bad the Oaks Mall Sears Auto Center wasn't freestanding, as there could have been a chance for it to live on after the main store was closed if that were the case. It's hard to find a good auto center, so it's a shame they had to close that one on you.

     Next to the side entrance with this display of car batteries, accompanied by a large “DieHard” sign above them to advertise this long time Sears brand. I know a lot of people who swear by DieHard batteries as one of the best to buy for your car, so this brand still has its following. Even I have a DieHard battery in my car, and it’s been doing me well these last few years (unlike some other battery brands I’ve had in the past). Anyway, to the left of the battery display is a car rental counter, which seems to be one of Sears more recent service addition (as far as I’m aware, as I’ve only noticed car rental services appear at my local Sears in the last few years). Unfortunately, the car rental counter is slightly blocked in this photo by some kayaks, which are part of the sporting goods department located across from this counter.

     Beyond the automotive section is a seasonal department (which I forgot to get a photo of, but since it was May, the area will filled with patio furniture) along with a small section of sporting goods. The next department after those is hardware, which is pictured above.

     Here is another (and much better focused) photo looking down the main aisle that traverses the hardware department of the Merritt Island Sears. Large power equipment (lawnmowers, generators, weed eaters, etc.) and grills were located in the section to my right. Hardware and other hand tools were located in the area to my left.

     Tucked behind the grills was this pallet of Smart Sense water, which I thought was interesting, as this is one of Kmart’s brands that usually never crosses over with Sears (considering Sears really doesn’t sell food). I want to say I’ve seen this before on flickr somewhere, but I can’t remember where. Anyway, I still thought it was strange seeing Sears selling cases of water, especially randomly placed amongst the hardware. As Retail Retell commented, "Yeah, this does seem pretty strange! Having not been in a Sears anytime recently, I can't really speak as to how common this is, but like you said, it seems unusual for a Kmart brand to cross over into a Sears store (unlike how Sears brands quite often can be found in Kmarts!). Makes enough sense though, especially considering the hot summer months are now upon us!" That makes sense, although I can't see this water being a big seller for Sears (considering where they hid it, and considering how few people would think to buy cases of water at Sears to begin with!). That is, unless they were going for the impulse buy to compliment a grill purchase (which this pallet was buried amongst), as bottled water will compliment a nice cookout on a hot summer's day. However, if there's another mad rush for bottled water for whatever reason, now I'll know where there will be an untouched stash of it! Retail Retell continued with: "Haha! Yes, when the sudden drought of water bottles comes along, you'll know where to find a hidden stockpile!" (And I guess anyone reading this will now know too!)

     Looking toward the aisles of hardware from power equipment. Again, I apologize for the blurriness.

     After passing through the hardware department, we end up once again in the center of the store near men’s clothing. In this photo we’re looking through men’s clothing toward the front entrance, which is visible in the distance.

     For the final portion of this post we return to the exterior of the Merritt Island Sears. In this photo we’re once again looking across the front of the building, with the store’s main exterior entrance visible in the foreground.

     Turning the corner we find this view of the right side of the building. The archway you see here is the side entrance that takes one into the hardware department, with the auto center visible in the background.

     Between the side entrance and the auto center was this small fenced-in area, which appears to have once been a Sears garden center. Sears hasn’t operated a garden center at one of their full-line stores in years, so this has probably been left empty since sometime in the 1990’s if I had to take a guess.

     Beyond the old garden center is the Sears Auto Center. Unlike many auto centers, which have multiple garage doors leading into the individual bays, this auto center was designed with one main entrance for cars to go through (visible in this photo) and one exit (which is around back) that leads to all the individual bays.

     Here is a close-up of the entrance into the auto center, as well as the door that leads into the customer waiting area and payment desk. As I said before, this Sears Auto Center was pretty busy when I was here, which was nice to see.

     Turning our attention to the back of this Sears store, we find the exit door from the Auto Center. As the cars finish their servicing, they’re brought out to the parking lot I was standing in for this photo to be picked up by their owners. It also appears that the Auto Center sign was replaced at some time, as behind the current signage is a rather obvious labelscar from an older sign.

     Panning a bit more to the right, we capture the Sears logo that faces the back mall parking lot in this shot. The back of the auto center also appears in this photo once again, as well as that old red Cadillac. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "Right on par! That's about a 1988 or '89 model Cadillac Fleetwood Braugham." Interesting! Hopefully that Cadillac hasn't been sitting there waiting for pickup since the Sears opened! :) YonWoo continued by saying, "Haha! Hopefully not! It's probably an employee of the Auto Center. I'll bet there were several of those in the parking lot back in 1989 when this Sears opened. Honestly if it weren't for the missing hubcaps, that car looks like its in mint condition. I saw one of these on in new condition with only 40,000 original miles in Winter Park going for $8,500! Had to have been a retired guy's old car." Unfortunately, I didn't look at the car closely when I was here, but from what I saw of the outside it seemed to be in pretty nice shape for a car that's 30 years old (minus those missing hubcaps - which takes a bit away from the car's appearance). That car in Winter Park sounds like it was well taken care of - only 40,000 miles over 30 years! It sure seems like it was only ever taken to church and the grocery store (and maybe the Sears Auto Center when it needed the oil changed!).

     Getting closer to the back entrance we find the merchandise pickup door. This is located just to the left of the main back entrance, with the pickup counter clustered with the rest of the Sears services in the back of this store.

     To the right of the back entrance was this No Soliciting sign, which appeared to date to the early days of this store. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "Wow! That's rare seeing a sign from the beginning of a 30 year old retail store's history still clinging on." As soon as I saw "Sears, Roebuck, and Co." on the sign, I knew it was an old one!

     To wrap up our coverage of the Merritt Island Sears store, we have this overview of the store’s back entrance and merchandise pickup door. Even as more Sears closings continue to trickle out, this particular location in Merritt Island continues to live on, even outlasting the Melbourne Sears store, which I always thought was the strongest Sears in Brevard County. For how much longer this Sears will live on is anybody’s guess, especially with all the bankruptcy circumstances, but for now this appears to be a rather nice Sears location. With that in mind, let’s not jinx this store just yet!

So until the next post,


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