The Sears, Roebuck, and Company department store on the southwest corner of Tryon and Third streets was built in 1929. As Charlotte’s commercial district on South Tryon rapidly expanded in the early 1900s, traditional dry goods stores evolved into large downtown department stores to better serve their customers. By the time of this photograph in 1940, the Sears store was one of five major downtown department stores on Tryon. What had started as the R. W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis became a growing chain of retail stores by the 1920s, as the emergence of the automobile and the urbanization of America’s cities began to erode catalog publishing. By 1928 Sears had begun to expand into North Carolina, and it boasted over 300 retail stores across the country. The explosive growth of Charlotte and its consumer base made the city a natural fit for the retail chain.
Just as the urban patterns precipitated by the rise of motor transport brought Sears to this site, they were also the main reason for its departure. The demands of the automobile were instrumental in shaping the built environment of downtown Charlotte as the twentieth century progressed, and the bustling commercial hub of South Tryon Street was dramatically impacted. Automobiles forced retailers to provide ample parking for consumers, and the lack of parking downtown led Sears-Roebuck to be one of the first to abandon its location. In 1949 a new Sears store accompanied by a large parking lot was opened in a more suburban site farther from downtown on North Tryon Street, and signaled another evolution in Charlotte’s commercial core. In the photo (circa 2013) the site is vacant, but this prime location has now become home to luxury condominiums, retail, and office space adjacent to Romare Bearden Park.
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Information taken from:
Charlotte Then and Now, Brandon Lunsford, 2013.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass