Residents share memories of Sears outlet at Six Corners
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
A lifelong employee of the key shop at the Sears store, 4730 W. Irving Park Road, who is a member of the Six Corners Association, has collected more than 500 memories from residents as part of a raffle that was held to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the store.
Dale Harris, who has operated the key shop for 43 years, said that as part of the anniversary celebration he has collected responses and memories from more than 500 people who have filled out raffle tickets for gift card prizes.
Participants were able to pick up a raffle card at the store’s registers or at other businesses in the Six Corners shopping district and fill out their answers to questions about their fondest memory of Sears. The store opened its doors on Oct. 20, 1938.
"I’m a member of the association, and I said that the anniversary was coming up and that we needed to do some something about it," Harris said. "My original thought was to go back and try to dig through the actual Sears archives, but the people from Hoffman Estates were not that receptive to that idea. Then I said why don’t we just do a lot of research on Sears."
Harris said that the Sears archives Web site has been very helpful and that he worked with a local historical society to come up with more than 80 posters that are displayed throughout the store. The Web site can be reached at www.searsarchives.com.
Some of the memory responses are displayed on a glass wall in front of the shoe department near the Cuyler Street entrance, Harris said. "It has drastically changed over the years, and some of the memories reflect those changes," he said.
According to the site, on March 19, 1943, more than 15,000 shoppers "invaded" the store because word got out that it had acquired a supply of war-scarce merchandise such as alarm clocks and hosiery. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about how the "attack started promptly at 9:30 a.m.," and "sale soldiers" established "beachheads in all the aisles" and "wiped out the alarm clock sector in 15 minutes."
The $1 million store was designed by architects Nimmons, Carr and Wright, and it was the first of the company’s large stores in the city. It featured the largest display window in Chicago at the time, and it was the first store that used artificial lighting and air conditioning, according to the site.
Harris said that departments that have closed over the years include ones that sold books, bicycles, carpets, film cameras, fishing gear, electrical supplies, furniture, groceries, flowers, paint, sporting goods, stationery, tobacco and records.
"Sears used to be the original mall, but businesses like this evolve and decisions are made about what sells and what doesn’t," Harris said. "I always joke that we have a tools department but no hardware department, so you can buy a hammer but you just can’t get nails."
Many memories recorded on the response cards deal with the nostalgic experiences at the candy counter and the aromas of nuts, candy, popcorn and chocolate sponges, as well as shopping while wearing Sunday-best clothing, dining at the store’s restaurants while shopping most of the day, and purchasing everything from appliances, clothing, shoes and toys for Christmas to tires at the auto center as well as getting that first job as a teenager.
Harris said that the key-making business also has changed and that in the 1970s the key store used to have about 800 customers a week. Now it has about 180 to 200 customers, many buying coded automobile keys, he said.
"But my fondest memory here over the years was just of having a good day at the store and seeing a lot of customers walking around, even at the shop that meant that you had a lot of work and the day would go by quickly," Harris said.
The Six Corners Association will hold a party outside the store with an inflatable, professional wrestling, food and children’s games from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12.
Many of the stores in the shopping district will participate in the association’s annual "Six Corners Halloween Treasure Hunt," which will feature prizes including an iPad.
The association will hold a dedication ceremony for a 10-foot-tall sculpture that pays tribute to the area’s history as a portage between the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers at the store at noon Oct. 12.
The Filament Ensemble Theater, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., will present a new edition of its "Crossing Six Corners" series, which dramatizes the history of the area, at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Admission to the show is free, but donations will be accepted.
The Northwest Chicago Historical Society will present a lecture on the prefabricated homes that Sears sold from its catalog at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at the People’s Gas and Coke Building, 4839 W. Irving Park Road. Sears sold about 70,000 of the ready-to-assemble kit houses between 1908 and 1940.
More information on the anniversary events is available by calling the association at 773-685-9300 or online www.sixcorners.com.
Dale Harris, a lifelong worker of the Sears Key Shop and member of the Six Corners Association, has collected more than 500 memories from residents as part of a raffle that was held to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Sears store.
Photo Cyryl Jakubowski