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A Gilded Age store for middle class customers – Sears files for bankruptcy

The first Sears tower in Chicago was recently renovated (photo by John Delano, 2006)

The Gilded Age in the United States generally referred to the post-Civil War period from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century, when vast industrial fortunes led to lavish lifestyles for those relatively few families. Newport, Rhode Island came to be seen as the most fashionable resort for many wealthy industrialists, with such “summer cottages” as The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, The Elms, and others.

But Gilded Age mansions are not the only tangible remnants of Gilded Age life. Numerous department stores were founded or enlarged into their Gilded Age incarnations during this period as well. Stores such as Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and others constructed landmark buildings in New York City and other major US cities. And while many of New York City’s Gilded Age mansions have been demolished, several of the iconic department store buildings from that era have remained. Economic challenges have forced changes to the store’s business models, but Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, among others, retained great pride in their landmark Gilded Age buildings—their “flagship” stores. In 2017, Lord & Taylor sold most of its landmark building on Fifth Avenue to WeWork. And more recently, Lord & Taylor relinquished the last bit of space it occupied in their landmark store on Fifth Avenue.

And most recently, the iconic US department store Sears announced its bankruptcy. Once a stable of middle and upper middle class consumerism, Sears’ early mail order catalogue success morphed into is mid-20th-century brick-and-mortar form, eventually becoming anchor stores in America’s numerous new shopping malls in the 1970s and 1980s. But while Sears’ became known as “where America shops,” its Gilded Age formative period should not be forgotten.

Sears, Robuck was founded in 1883 in Minneapolis but relocated to Chicago in 1895. In 1904, the company embarked on construction of its huge new mail-order facility on Chicago’s West Side. The resulting property encompassed 55 acres anchored by a 14-story brick tower that housed administrative offices and an observation deck. No longer part of the Sears company, the tower sat empty for a spell in the 1980s but subsequently was restored, revitalized, and reopened in 2016. While the Sears company recently filed for bankruptcy, marking the final chapter in this Gilded Age icon of American consumerism, historic preservation helps mark on the landscape a vital link to one of America’s most iconic economic ventures.


Sears, the Original Everything Store, Files for Bankruptcy

By Michael Corkery

The New York Times

October 18, 2018

First Look, the First Sears Tower

By Lauren Waiser

Preservation Magazine

Spring 2016

When Sears Was Everywhere: Espionage, Politics and Fine Art

By Tiffany Hsu

The New York Times

October 15, 2018

See also

Lord & Taylor Will Close Flagship Store In Landmark Fifth Avenue Building

By Jen Chung

June 5, 2018

See original post at -

Lord & Taylor—a century old “Ladies’ Paradise” for luxury and leisure loses its flagship store

By International Heritage News Network

October 28, 2017

Also see

Thanksgiving! Companies like Macy's embrace their historic and iconic flagship stores

By International Heritage News Network

November 23, 2017

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