The Age of the Downtown Department Store

July 24, 2012 46 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Before shopping malls took over the Jacksonville region, downtown's streets were once lined with grand department stores. In honor of the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the Cohen Brother's St. James Building (now city hall), and with our second book currently in production, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at a few retailing landmarks from yesteryear and encourages our readers to share their memories of a retail era gone bye.

Sears, Roebuck and Company

Opening at the intersection of Bay and Hogan Streets in June 1959, downtown's 260,000 square foot, five level Sears was considered an innovative creation for the department store industry nationwide.  Known as the "Cadillac Store", it featured the largest auto accessory department in the nation and was the first department store to have a sit-down restaurant with waiter service instead of cafeteria-style.  Attracting 40,000 shoppers on opening day, it was the last Sears store built with more than two floors and the first urban department store to have a surface parking lot of its own.  In 1981, downtown's Cadillac store closed by taking a drive to a new, yet smaller 218,000 square foot location, at the then booming Regency Square Mall.

In a span of six months in 1984, four of downtown's largest and most prestigious stores permanently closed their doors.  What type of incentives would this city throw to land one of these places today?  

Were you lucky enough to witness downtown Jacksonville during the era of it being a retail epicenter?  Do you remember what departments were on the floors of each store?  Does this summary of downtown's major department stores bring back memories? If so, we'd like to hear from you.  

As mentioned earlier in this article, Metro Jacksonville is in the process of developing our second book, which will focus on the rise and fall of May-Cohens and the urban retail environment that developed around it.  In an effort to better understand retail atmosphere lost, we encourage our readers to post their favorite memories of downtown's department stores and overall retail environment.

Article by Ennis Davis

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