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.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.