Retail Relic: Ann & Hope Department Stores

Ann & Hope, Warwick, Rhode Island

We haven’t done one of these in a very, very long time. I recently stumbled upon a cache of old photos that I took in the summer of 2006–in the nascent days of this blog–on a trip back to my home state of Rhode Island to capture some of the retail oddities of my home region. Ann & Hope was one of the most storied retailers in New England during their reign from the 50s until 2001, and is most famously known as the pioneer of discount department store retail. Legend has it that Sam Walton modeled Walmart after their concept.

Ann & Hope was founded by Martin Chase, a Ukrainian immigrant who moved to Providence, Rhode Island when he was six years old. He spent much of his young adulthood working at various clothing retailers, before starting his own store, Chase Clothes, in the 1930s. Chase minimized overhead by using inexpensive store fixtures and not offering frills such as alterations. In the mid-1940s, as the clothing market was depressed due to World War II, Chase began to look at new business ventures to expand into, and he purchased the sprawling Ann & Hope mill complex, named for a ship lost at sea off the coast of Rhode Island in 1806. The mills were located in Cumberland, Rhode Island, just north of Providence. The Ann & Hope complex was made up of large, somewhat disused factory buildings, and Chase split the spaces up and rented them out piecemeal to subtenants and retailers.

In 1953, one of the tenants moved out of the complex and left a large amount of ribbon behind in the mill, and Chase opened the space to the other tenants in the center to purchase the remnants. Inspired by his success, Chase decided to reopen his own retail venture in the space, and gradually expanded his retail operation within the complex. By the end of the 1960s, Ann & Hope had grown to a $40 million-a-year general merchandise business, and Walton’s famed visit occurred in 1961.

Ann & Hope pioneered the discount department store concept, with centralized checkouts, large amounts of merchandise that customers could peruse without sales personnel, and shopping carts. The original Ann & Hope mill location, which was located in oddly-sized rooms on different levels in an old industrial building, also featured shopping cart escalators and a large parking lot, both innovations at the time. Ann & Hope stores also featured a full-service cafeteria and generally had several small sub-tenant spaces such as a flower shop or garden center in the front of the store. Ann & Hope stores typically sold a wide variety of merchandise, including a large grocery section, a wide range of apparel and home goods, as well as electronics, appliances, general merchandise, and more. They carried much of what you would get at a modern Sears or Best Buy, along with many of the softer goods you’d find at Target, all under one very massive roof.

In addition to the original Cumberland location–which bore little physical resemblance to the modern big box store, the chain opened large (often over 200,000 square-foot) suburban-style stores throughout New England. The other locations were in Warwick, Rhode Island; Seekonk, North Dartmouth, Randolph, Danvers, Watertown, and Methuen, Massachusetts. The Watertown and Danvers stores even anchored large regional malls, whereas the other locations were standalone. From the 60s to the 90s, Ann & Hope was a dominant retail force in New England, and many of their stores acted as regional draws much in the same way as malls did, anchoring their respective retail districts and attracting a flurry of commercial development–development that, in many cases, would ultimately spell their demise.

Ann & Hope, Warwick, Rhode Island

In the spring of 2001, when the economy was weak but was especially struggling in New England, many regional discount chains such as Bradlees, Apex, and Ann & Hope finally found they were unable to compete with larger competitors. Many of these chains, such as Target and Walmart, were able to use the leverage of operating many locations in less-expensive regions of the country to offset the high-cost stores in New England, whereas smaller chains like Ann & Hope simply didn’t have the leverage or buying power to stay on board. All of the store locations, save for the Warwick and Cumberland stores, were closed outright. The remaining two stores were converted to “Curtain and Bath Outlets,” focusing on a few key areas of Ann & Hope’s offering (along with lawn and garden), and a dramatically shrunken footprint. Much of the remainder of the Warwick store even served temporary as the headquarters for Brooks Pharmacy, while their own offices were under construction a few miles away in East Greenwich. The Curtain and Bath Outlet seems strange–and the appeal seems to be primarily to older women–but has proven so successful that the still-surviving chain has opened a total of 11 stores under this new format.

These photos were taken in summer 2006, approximately five years after the closure of this location as a full-service Ann & Hope store. The exterior of the building is largely unchanged from pre-2001, except for the addition of the ugly “OUTLET STORES” sign below the main A&H signage. The Curtain and Bath concept was operating, however, hence why I was able to get inside and snap a few quick pictures, but it’s important to note that this bears very little resemblance to the original Ann & Hope, which was significantly more comparable to a higher-end Walmart Supercenter or the hypermarket chains like Meijer, Fred Meyer, or Bigg’s.


Scottsdale Mall (Erskine Village); South Bend, Indiana

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Located in north central Indiana about 90 miles east of Chicago, South Bend, Indiana is home to the legendary Notre Dame University and for almost a hundred years was also the home of the Studebaker auto empire.  In addition, South Bend is the anchor of the entire Michiana region, a 7-county area of north central Indiana and southwest Michigan containing over 800,000 people.  Today, South Bend’s population exceeds 100,000, and an intermodal transportation network featuring two cross country interstates (80 and 90) combined with interurban rail links to Chicago make South Bend an enviable location.

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, INSouth Bend, along with its twin city to the east Mishawaka, share two main retail areas.  The largest and most dominant of these retail zones is located on the north and east sides of South Bend, extending into Mishawaka.  It features numerous strip malls, big box, restaurants, and the area’s only enclosed super-regional center, University Park Mall.  A secondary retail area is located on the south side of South Bend, located mostly along Ireland Road and S. Michigan Street, and it was centered around South Bend’s first regional enclosed mall, Scottsdale Mall.

Scottsdale Mall opened in 1971, anchored by Montgomery Ward, L.S. Ayres, and Ayr-Way, L.S. Ayres’s discount box.  Scottsdale Mall appealed to the entire Michiana region and as it was their first mall, it became extremely popular.  The two-level mall continued to be successful throughout the 1970s, as it had little to no competition in the area.

Then, in 1979, University Park Mall opened across town in Mishawaka, which not only established strong competition for Scottsdale Mall, but also shifted the entire region’s retail focus from south to northeast.  However, throughout the 1980s, Scottsdale Mall held its own against University Park, even as more retail and big box was opening near University Park and not on the south side of South Bend near Scottsdale Mall.  Also, in 1980, the Ayr-Way chain closed upon its sale to the Dayton-Hudson (Target) Corporation, and the Scottsdale Mall location reopened in 1981 as Target.

Scottsdale Mall LS Ayres in South Bend, INIn order to compete with the newer University Park Mall, and attract more retail to its side of town, Scottsdale Mall embarked on a multi-million dollar top to bottom renovation, which was complete in 1993.  The new development brought an early-90s, very colorful, pastel, rainbow-brite-threw-up-here vibe to the mall; but before this, Scottsdale was already tanking, and the LS Ayres store abruptly closed in January 1992 citing poor sales.  It would later reopen, but the 1992 closure cast a pall on the store, and on the mall itself, from which both would never recover.  By the late 1990s, the mall was once again tanking; vacancy rates were growing, and national chains began closing, being replaced by either local stores or nothing at all.  Meanwhile, fortunes on the other side of town were growing ever greater, as throughout the 90s more national chains and box strip opened in and around the vicinity of University Park Mall.

The final throws to the Scottsdale Mall dunk tank came in 2000, when L.S. Ayres announced they were closing (again), and Montgomery Ward announced they were going out of business at the end of the year.  Losing these two anchors proved devastating to Scottsdale Mall, and it never recovered.

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, INBy 2003, only a handful or so of stores were left in the mall, along with Target and a popular movie theatre.  Unfortunately this was not enough to keep the mall afloat, and it was sold, closed, and promptly torn down in 2004; only Target was to remain at the site.  Interestingly, a lot of the mom-and-pop stores moved about 15 minutes east to Elkhart’s Concord Mall.  Also, unil the very end, the management was too lazy to update the directories, which still featured L.S. Ayres and Wards.

A short time after Scottsdale Mall became a pile of scrap metal and dust, a new strip-mall like development called Erskine Village began construction on the same site and opened in 2005.  The new development features TJMaxx, Kohls, Target, Petsmart, several restaurants, and a strip of outward facing smaller stores.  Erskine Village, not surprisingly, has been slow to get off the ground, and it certainly lacks the community and place-inspired memories an enclosed mall evokes.  However, I suppose if people wanted that they would have patronized Scottsdale.  Oh well.

We visited Scottsdale a few times before it got the axe; however, the pictures featured here are from a contributor and were taken in December 2003, a few months before the mall closed permanently.  For clarification, the ad for the TV series was up from Summer 1999 until the mall was torn down.  Feel free to leave your comments and experiences.

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

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Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, IN

K’s Merchandise Closing All Stores


Founded in 1954 in Decatur, Illinois, K’s Merchandise Mart is (or was, depending on when you read this) a hard-lines merchandise wholesaler not unlike the now-defunct Service Merchandise chain.  Like Service Merchandise, it has fallen on hard times as competition from stores which offer overlapping merchandise at competitive prices, more convenient locations, or both have flooded the markets where K’s operates.  Earlier this year, a Boston-based bank offered K’s a cash infusion to avert bankruptcy.  K’s used the cash to spiff up its stores, namely the furniture and jewelry departments, and anticipated larger sales from these modifications in order to pay off the bank and get back in the black.  Unfortunately, the increased sales never materialized, and K’s has been forced to pack up and march out.   All 17 of K’s stores in Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri will liquidate and close when the walls are bare, including the Rockford location I shopped at as a kid.

K's Merchandise in Rockford, ILWith the closest Service Merchandise in the Chicago area – over an hour away from where I grew up in Janesville, WI, we shopped at K’s Merchandise for those crazy times we needed wholesale hardlines and needed them fast.  K’s was never a fancy store, and I personally thought the concept was easily duplicated at specialty electronics, jewelry, or general discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.  In fact, I haven’t even been inside a K’s store in over a decade, a testament to the loss of my need for the store.  In addition, just last week when passing a K’s incidently I had wondered about their viability.

The stores themselves were never fancy in decor, in varying conditions physically, and until very recently never attempted to update themselves as Service Merchandise did toward the end of its run, modernizing many of its stores.  Perhaps the only interesting thing about K’s is the logo, and the memories you have if you ever shopped there.  Feel free to post comments about K’s, too.

Retail Relic: Benny’s Home & Auto Stores

Benny's sign in Raynham, Massachusetts

While the name will be unfamiliar to anyone from outside Rhode Island, Southeastern Massachusetts, or Eastern Connecticut, Benny’s Home & Auto Stores–who continue to operate today–are a true living retail relic. Just look at this vintage-looking store! Nearly all of the Benny’s stores, even the ones of more recent vintage, seem to look like this. As an added bonus, check out their website, which sports some considerable 1996 HTML chic. These guys take retro retail fashion seriously. Oops, they actually built a new website!

Founded in 1924, Benny’s is a 30-store chain with stores in 3 states. Their format is decidedly unusual: they essentially round up the hardlines department of a standard Wal-Mart, and cut nearly all of the softlines. It’s a place where you can buy tools, sporting goods, automotive, toys, home decor, and lawn and garden, but you won’t find any clothing. Their stores vary in size, ranging from 20,000 or 30,000 square feet at the low end and up to about 60,000 or so square feet at the high end, and are located in shopping centers, standalone locations, and even downtowns. They’re the rare survivor from the 5-and-dime era who has managed to carve out a niche and outlast their bigger, better monied New England cousins like Ames, Bradlees, Rich’s, or Caldor.

I haven’t shopped at Benny’s in many years since I moved away from the area, but that the chain has become sort of a local treasure is no surprise. Rhode Island is a state that values its local retail, but after losing nearly all of the big names from Peerless to The Outlet to to Apex to Ann & Hope, Benny’s is the last major player standing. Benny’s is so adored as a survivor that you can buy a collectible model of an old, downtown-style store!

Benny's Home and Auto Store in Raynham, Massachusetts

The location pictured is located on US44 on the Raynham/Taunton town line in Massachusetts, but they all look very similar to this one. Even stores of a more recent vintage have been given some of the classic treatment, so nearly all of their locations offer a trip down the memory lane of discount department store retail. The ad included below is their current (Aug 2006) Providence Journal advertising flyer, and I’ve included it to give an idea of the types of products Benny’s sells.

Benny's Flier from August 2006

Prangeway: Here is the Benny’s location in Wakefield Westerly, Rhode Island, in August 2001.

Bennys in Wakefield, RI

Retail Relic: Ames Department Stores


Ames Logo

To those of us who grew up in the Northeast, Ames was Wal-Mart before there was such a thing. Ames was many things, but they weren’t glamorous: their stores were big emporiums with long rows of flourescent lights that sold plastic jelly shoes, cheap plastic bins for storing random stuff, and fiberboard furniture. But unlike Target, Wal-Mart, or even veritable old names like Caldor and Bradlees, Ames was ubiquitous. Every decent-sized town in New England had an Ames.

Ames’ history is a somewhat long and sad tale of a regional discounter that tried to stand up to Wal-Mart and other national chains. Ames began in 1958 out of a warehouse in Southbridge, Massachusetts as a store that attempted to bring department store goods to rural areas affordably. In their early days and even through the 1980s, Ames was located primarily in rural northeastern towns. Unfortunately Ames’ overzealousness was their undoing. A disastrous acquisition of faltering giant Zayre in 1988 caused Ames to go bankrupt and close many of their stores, and they spent much of the 1990s regaining their footing. By the late 1990s, Ames was finally again on solid ground. Unfortunately, Ames was also keenly aware of the march of strong competitors like Wal-Mart and Target and how many of their peers, notably Caldor and Bradlees but also Ann & Hope and Apex, were dying off quickly. Instead of making many much-needed re-investments into their aging stores, Ames acquired Hill’s department stores, giving them 467 stores stretching from Maine to Chicago. It was a risky, defensive decision that was an 11th hour attempt to build the kind of volume to fight Wal-Mart. Unfortunately Ames had not learned from their inability to absorb Zayre more than a decade earlier, and this second disastrous acquisition would sink the chain. Ames filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in August 2001 and announced they would be going out of business forever exactly a year later, in August 2002.

At the time of their death, Ames was the fourth largest discount department store chain in the United States. Because many of their stores were in rural areas or lower-tier plazas or strips–and because their stores varied wildly in size or quality–many of them remain vacant today. The occasion for this post is the return of the excellent Ames Fan Club Website, created and maintained by Chris Fontaine, a native of Dudley, Mass., not far from Ames’ birthplace of Southbridge. Fontaine’s ambitious mission is to try and visit every former Ames site and document it in photographs to create a comprehensive historical archive of the defunct retailer. There’s also a wealth of great other stuff, including some hilarious employee training videos (my favorite is a teambuilding video produced by the Glenmont, NY store wherein a young employee treats her coworkers to a rendition of “Amazing Ames” sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”) and photos of the chain’s planogram building near their former headquarters in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. Due to server issues, the Ames Fan Club had been offline for several months, since before Labelscar even launched. Since we at Labelscar (or me, at least) are big fans of the fallen discounter, and we’re glad to see that the Ames Fan Club is back.

I’ve included some uncredited, undated (2001-2002ish?) photos of the former Ames store in my hometown of Middletown, Rhode Island. The building has since been razed, and is now home of a Home Depot store that’s set further back on the lot. The original site of the Ames store (which is very visibly one of the stores acquired from Zayre) is now the parking lot for the current Home Depot.

Former Ames in Middletown, Rhode Island Former Ames in Middletown, Rhode Island

Retail Relic: Old School Kmarts

Old Kmart store in South Burlington, Vermont

Some stores are slow when it comes to standardization of their logos or decor, but perhaps none have been more notorious for this than Kmart. Even after their moderately successful rebranding campaign that began in the early 1990s, many of the chain’s stores held onto the older vintage logo scheme, and many (most?) never got interior facelifts.

Even after the merger with Sears, when the company began experimenting with Sears/Kmart hybrid stores (Sears Essentials) many of the interior elements had been left untouched. Judging by how much more successful Sears Grand was, and the fact that Sears Essentials is already being retired, I think that we can guess what that taught us.

Unlike many of the old retail chains that we’re so fond of (Caldor, Bradlees, Venture, Prangeway, and even Ames), Kmart’s stores have rarely been terribly pleasant. When they’ve tried, they’ve built nice spaces, but most of the time they haven’t.

When I took a road trip up to Vermont a few weeks ago, I found the Kmart above with its old logo intact on the city’s south side strip (along US-7). It’s one of the first of its kind that I’ve seen in years, so I figured I should swing in and snap a few pictures. I also have these other photos of old Kmarts in Sacramento and Iowa City that have been sitting on my hard drive for awhile. I have no idea who took them or where they came from, so if they’re yours and you want credit then please let me know.

Old Kmart store in South Burlington, Vermont Kmart plaza in South Burlington, VT Old Kmart in South Burlington, VT

This photo of unknown origin is of a Kmart in Sacramento, CA Unknown photo of Kmart in Iowa Falls, IA