Disclaimer: Devoted Grandma is reader-supported. If you purchase anything through my site, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). Thank you.
In this day and age, ordering, well, anything has never been easier, as you can simply log in to your phone or computer, do a quick search, find, and then buy said item. Even more incredible? Everything you buy will be delivered in a few days (sometimes hours, depending on what you order and where you are located)! What a time to be alive! While we can’t help but love Prime shipping, we also miss the excitement of visiting our favorite department store, especially these 15 that are gone but not forgotten:
You know we couldn’t begin this list without the F.W. Woolworth Company, the late-19th-into-the-20th-century equivalent of today’s Walmart. Billed as a pioneer of the five-and-dime store, visiting Woolworth was a memorable experience, as the once largest department store chain in the world had a little bit of everything, my favorite part, of which was the beautiful baby dolls and accessories. Sadly, the once-reining kingdom of retail eventually fell and now focuses on only athleticwear via the Foot Locker brand.
Raise your hand if you hail from the Midwest! I see you and want to give both you and Duckwall-Alco a shout-out! Founded in 1901, Duckwalls (or Alco, depending on your whereabouts) may have been your standard five-and-dime, but they were lifelines for those who lived in more rural areas and didn’t have access to bigger, more mainstream variety stores. While the last Alco closed in 2015, many of its former stores have been acquired by both Shopko Hometown stores and Bomgaars.
Can anyone else remember when Ames first opened in the late 1950s? It was a huge deal, as the discount store – which at its peak had 700+ locations in 20 states – had some unique inventory at a more affordable price! (I also come bearing great news on the Ames front, as the historic store is planning a comeback in 2023! Talk about an unexpected twist…)
If you grew up out east, you almost certainly stopped into Gimbels AT LEAST once or twice! Founded in Indiana, Gimbels quickly expanded to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, and Connecticut and gained popularity not only for its designer duds but for creating the first-ever Thanksgiving Day parade. Sadly, Gimbels closed its doors for good in 1987.
While not necessarily a department store, the specialty Levitz Furniture is still worth noting because if you were anything like me, you loved to walk around (while you’re parents shopped) and dream of which pieces you would choose for your future Mary Tyler Moore Show-inspired apartment. Unfortunately, like the orange floral print couches it once sold, Levitz is now defunct, with the last location closing in 2008.
I believe there may be a handful of remaining Sears (I double-checked, and there are currently 179 physical locations!), but this once gigantic department store brand is nowhere near what it used to be, which is a darn shame. In addition to all of its state-of-the-art appliances, clothing, and furniture, Sears had the absolute best catalog, which we kids used to love to “shop” through before Christmas.
If you ask my kids where we did the bulk of their back-to-school shopping, they would harmoniously answer, “Mervyn’s.” Founded in 1949 in California, Mervyn’s was the cool place to shop, especially for apparel, footwear, and accessories. They say all good things must come to an end, and Mervyn’s was no exception, as it faltered in 2009.
I was sad to see Ward’s go kaput, as I have many fond memories of shopping here as a little girl. What began as a mail-order catalog that catered to farmers quickly grew into an economic phenomenon as the retail giant operated hundreds of stores in nearly every state. While you can still shop Ward’s online, the last of its physical locations closed in 2001.
If you did not grow up in the east or Midwest, you may not recognize the name Kresge’s; however, if you did, you know that there was no better place to roam the aisles than this iconic five-and-dime. (Fun fact: Kresge’s rebranded to Kmart in the early 1960s! Not so fun fact: There are only a handful of remaining Kmarts around the U.S.)
National Record Mart
Like Levitz, National Record Mart is not a department store per se but was the retail experience for our generation, as it was the country’s first-ever chain music store. Remember the smooth feel of the album color, the intoxicating smell of the vinyl, and the sound of the Rolling Stones playing while you browsed? NRM – which closed its last store in 2002 – was a special place, indeed…
W.T. Grant Co. 25 Cent Store
“Known for Values,” Grant’s had a stellar inventory at a more affordable price point, which made it a popular spot for spending hard-earned allowance money. Unlike most spots on our list, Grant’s went under sooner than later, with the business closing for good in 1976.
Barneys New York
Confession: I never had the chance to visit Barney’s, a swanky luxury store that catered to the wealthy… Did you? If you answered no, I come bearing bad news, as Barney closed its iconic New York location (and the rest of its remaining locations) in 2020.
RadioShack was always an interesting place to walk around, thanks to the state-of-the-art, groundbreaking tech that the company specialized in. Founded as a parts store for ham radio operators in 1921, RadioShack once had a whopping 7,300 locations, with only a few remaining as of this writing.
If you are a bookworm like myself, you LOVED visiting Waldenbooks, which specialized in one thing and one thing only: books! First opened in the early 1930s, Waldenbooks expanded to include hundreds of locations until the competition proved to be too much. The last Waldenbooks closed in 2011.
How lucky are we to have been around to enjoy so many of these iconic places? I hope this small round-up brought back some happy memories from your childhood and early adulthood – it sure has for me!