Sears, Roebuck and Co.


In 1893, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. headquarters had been established in Chicago. The first catalogue was also published that year, but only sold watches. Gradually, more and more items were added to the catalogue, including men's and women's apparel. By 1897, the catalogue was approximately 500-pages long and sent to 300,000 homes nationwide. (26)

Richard Sears relocated his mail-order business from Minneapolis to Chicago in 1887. At the time, the R.W. Sears Watch Company was located on Dearborn Street, north of Randolph. In 1892, Sears expanded by opening an office on West Van Buren, just east of Halsted. However, Sears quickly outgrew its location and moved into a five-story building on West Adam Street, east of Halsted. Again, however, Sears outgrew its location within a few years. The company relocated to the Enterprise building at the corners of Fulton, Des Plaines, and Wayman Streets. During the next six years, various expansions would be made to the Enterprise building to house the company's rapid growth. (27)

Enterprise Building

In 1904, the rapid growth of Sears lead the company to purchase land south of Garfield Park to construct a Merchandise building. Located at the intersection of Hofman Avenue and Arthington Street, the building had nearly a million square feet of floor space. The complex housed a printing building and powerhouse. The building had a special "U” shaped design that allowed it to incorporate the railroad tracks of the nearby Belt Line Railroad. (28)

“Over the years Sears enlarged the Merchandise Building numerous times. These expansions helped make the building at one time the second largest business structure of its kind in the world. The electricity supplied by the powerhouse operated the ventilating system, escalators, and transmission belts for carrying Merchandise between the stock departments and the shipping departments. Over nine miles of pneumatic tubing quickly transported letters and other papers from one department to another.” (29)

Railroad Yard

First Store

On February 2, 1925, the first Sears retail store, which included an optical shop, opened in the Merchandise building. Three more retail stores opened during the summer of 1928. Nearing the end of 1932, Sears built its first downtown department store in Chicago on State Street. The store occupied the Leiter Building, an eight-story building built in 1893. The store was located on the corner of Van Buren, State, and Congress Streets. For Sears it marked the first Sears store in a downtown shopping district, the sixth store in Chicago, and the 381st store Sears built. Renovation costs for the building were over a million dollars. (30)

The State Street store held its opening day amidst the Great Depression. Local newspapers reported an estimated 15,000 shoppers visited the store on opening day. Despite being overwhelmed, the store's employment office found jobs for 750 employees during the four months of renovation. In addition, 1,000 workers were staffed at the new store. (31)

Illinois Governor Louis Emmerson in a message to Sears Chairman Lessing Rosenwald stated, "I cannot help but feel that this opening will mean a great deal for your organization as well as for your city." Rosenwald proudly proclaimed that, "We regard the opening of our new store on the world's greatest thoroughfare as one of the high spots of our company's history." (32)

Today, Sears operates more than 2,300 Sears-branded and affiliated stores in the U.S. and Canada. (33)

Sears First Retail Store Advertisement (Feb. 1, 1925)

Richard W. Sears

Chicago Department Stores & Retail Entrepreneurs