The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

After a combined 140 years on the Western New York retail scene, the news looks bleak for fans of Kmart and Sears.

The Jefferson Avenue side of Buffalo’s original Sears store, at the corner of Main and Jefferson.

As Samantha Christmann reported in The News in November, the last area Sears store in the McKinley Mall and the three remaining Kmarts (in Jamestown, Wellsville and on Hertel Avenue) are all candidates for another round of store closings that come as the retailer tries to emerge from bankruptcy.

When Sears and Kmart merged in an $11 billion deal announced in 2004, two long-standing fixtures on the Western New York retailing scene came together.

Western New Yorkers have made Kmart a part of their Christmas shopping routines since the first store opened here on Walden Avenue in 1967. Within a year, there were Kmart locations in Orchard Park (now the site of Lowe’s and Tops), Niagara Falls Boulevard (now the site of the Christmas Tree Store and Old Navy), and the corner of Military and Packard roads in Niagara Falls.

A 1967 ad announcing the opening of Western New York’s first Kmart.

In 1999, there were eight Kmart locations in the Buffalo area, including one at the corner of French and Transit, on Ridge Road in Lackawanna, South Park Avenue in Hamburg, and Transit Road in Amherst.

It was just before Christmas 90 years ago that Sears & Roebuck bought the five acre site of the Carnival Court amusement park at Main and Jefferson for its first Buffalo store. That original Sears store and the attached parking ramp are now a part of the Canisius College campus.

About a dozen Sears locations have come and gone in the Buffalo area through the years. In the 1930s, Sears built in busy neighborhood shopping districts. The second Sears location in Bufffalo was at Seneca and Cazenovia in South Buffalo, followed by another at Broadway and Fillmore.

Eventually, those locations closed in favor of nearby suburban shopping plazas. The Broadway/Fillmore store moved to the Thruway Plaza in 1952, and the Seneca Street store moved to Southgate Plaza in 1960.

Sears Southgate Plaza location, 1960. Dollar Tree is now in this location.

The original Main Street location closed in 1980 as Sears eventually moved all of its stores into shopping malls.

The retailer was an original anchor in the Eastern Hills Mall, closing this month after 46 years there. The Thruway Mall Sears moved to the Walden Galleria when that mall opened in 1989.

The Galleria and Boulevard Mall locations closed in 2016. The Southgate Plaza Sears moved into the McKinley Mall when it opened in 1985. That store, which traces its roots back the corner of Seneca and Buffum streets in the 1930s, is Buffalo’s last remaining Sears. For now.

Sears, Main and Jefferson, 1936. The building is now part of the Canisius College campus.

Sears & Kmart, once the gold standard, now nearly dead

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was a longtime Kmart man.

Throughout my childhood, even as Hills, Twin Fair, Gold Circle, Ames, and Brand Names all had their advantages, Kmart was my gold standard in shopping.

It was always clean, well stocked, and carried quality merchandise.

When we first bought our house, Sears was still the embodiment of dependability. To buy something from Sears was an investment.

It’s been sad to see these great brands ravaged, and to know the service and dependability they stood for is completely and utterly dead on any large scale.

I was thinking about all this after writing about the demise of Kmart and Sears for The News.

The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY

 

Former Main Street institutions of the Parkside era now part of the Canisius campus

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Parkside Historian Michael Riester puts forth the thesis, “As goes Main Street, so goes Parkside.” The following pages will take a look at Main Street in three separate sections: The institutions of the area, the automobile showrooms, and, finally the small businesses; the shops and storefronts where most people did most of their spending and buying of goods and services.

Many modern Parksiders, who just think of the whole area as “Canisius College,” will be surprised to know that the block of Main between Delevan and Jefferson has been home to a brewery, an amusement park, and for over 50 years, a Sears & Roebuck store.

In 1842, Jacob Schaenzlin moved into a brewery built two years earlier at 1857 Main Street, near Scajaquada Creek. This is the present site of the Delavan/Canisius MetroRail station.

While the waters were visible in this photo of the Schnaezlin Brewery snapped circa 1900– today, Scajaquada Creek is underground from Forest Lawn Cemetery all the way to Cheektowaga. The photo was taken from the east side of Main Street looking west. That’s the Main Street bridge in the photo.

Further up the block, and a half century later, at the point where Jefferson Avenue and Main Street meet, stood an amusement park, which was known by at least 3 different names over the decades it was open. First known in the 1890s as Athletic Park, its name was changed first to Carnival Court, then to Luna Park, when it was purchased by the father of the modern amusement park, Frederick Ingersoll. He owned the park from 1904-1920.  Among the more popular rides was the “Shoot the Chutes” water ride, which Ingersoll built in all his parks, and was the basis for the modern water flume ride.

Looking north up Main from the From the Top of Shoot the Chutes. That’s Jefferson Avenue, St. Vincent’s, then Providence Retreat (now Sisters Hospital )

The midway of the Carnival Court was heavily damaged by fire in 1909. The fire was briefly mentioned in the New York Times, calling the place a “pleasure resort,” and mentioning the skating rink and the theatre suffered damage in the blaze.

Closed and abandoned by 1920, Sears and Roebuck purchased the property and built a store on the site in 1929. From that Sears store, generations of Parksiders were clothed, and kept in appliances, hardware, paint, and gardening supplies. Sears left in 1980, and four years later, the building became the headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of WNY.  The building, which once housed all that the Sears Catalog had to offer, is now Canisius’ Science Hall.

George Zornick lived on Russell in the 1960s. “Sears was very convenient to the neighborhood. As a kid, I remember the big escalator in the middle of the store. We’d go there for clothes and my dad for hardware; the place seemingly had everything.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.