The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY

       By Steve Cichon

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.

Buffalo in the ’80s: The changing face of retail

By Steve Cichon

Over the last couple of years, brick and mortar retail has taken a major hit in Western New York. Sears and K-Mart stores, Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Toys-R-Us, Macy’s and the Bon Ton have all closed stores or gone out of business.

Bon-Ton stores closed across Buffalo in August, 2018.

The change in the local and national retail landscape has led area the owners of local shopping malls to reimagine what those malls could be as they struggle to keep up on bills.

The two area Two Guys stores, including this one at the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Sheridan Drive, were among the 36 major stores that closed in Buffalo during an 18-month period in the early 1980s.

The last time such a tidal wave hit Buffalo retailing was during a recession in the early ’80s.

During an 18-month stretch between 1980 and 1982, seven major retailers closed 36 stores in Buffalo.

At the time in question, the original flagship Sears store on Main at Jefferson closed (today, the building is part of the Canisius College campus). Also closed: three Sattler’s stores, eight Hens & Kelly stores, 15 Twin Fair stores, five King’s stores, three Naum’s and two Two Guys stores.

Buffalo’s original Sears store, Main & Jefferson, 1937. (Buffalo Stories archives)

It was during that same time period that Buffalo lost another long-standing name in retail, as Hengerer’s stores were rebranded as Sibley’s.

Even though some stores were bought out or taken over, the closures left 2.5 million square feet of empty retail space around Western New York. Most troublesome were the empty downtown Main Street storefronts that had been Hens & Kelly and Sattler’s for decades.

AM&As, late 1950s, in the building that was torn down to make way for the Main Place Mall. The store moved across the street to the former JN Adam store until the 1995.

“Their show windows are dark and dirty, like others along Main Street, even as progress on the city’s new pedestrian mall and rapid transit system continues,” wrote John Given in an Associated Press report printed in newspapers around the country.

The longtime retail giants left standing were feeling the pinch, as the massive MetroRail construction on Main Street was happening just as the worst economic times were hitting.

Robert Adam was worried about the downtown AM&A’s location, but even more so, the branch near the GM/Harrison Radiator plant in Lockport that had just seen massive layoffs.

“Everyone thinks if you’re the only one left they have to go to you, and that’s not true,” said Adam. “I don’t want to be the only one left.”

A few blocks down Main Street at LL Berger’s, Louis Berger said he hoped that all the bleeding in 1981 and 1982 was going to be enough to right the ship.

“We’ve seen the end of closings downtown,” said Berger. “I think the shakedown is over.”

LL Berger, Main Street, downtown Buffalo, in the 1980s.