Behind-the-scenes tour of 6 Corners Sears slated
by BRIAN NADIG
The Six Corners Association on Saturday, July 23, will host a behind-the-scenes tour of the iconic Sears Department Store, the main retail anchor in the Six Corners shopping district for almost 80 years.
The store opened to large crowds on Oct. 20, 1938. “On opening day, we had 99,000 people show up. That’s two-and-a-half times the capacity of Wrigley Field,” said longtime Sears Key Shop worker Dale Harris. “When it opened, it had the largest display window in the Midwest.”
The store expanded in 1972 when a large addition that included the automotive center was constructed.
Harris, the tour’s guide, plans to show parts of the store which shoppers usually do not see, including stockrooms, a hidden stairway and remnants of the Hillman’s grocery store which operated in the basement until 1957. The basement now includes hardware and sporting goods.
The tour also will include unusual tidbits about the store.
Harris recalled that when a new set of passenger elevators opened, there was a lot of confusion among shoppers because one set listed the store’s retail levels as “B, 1, 2, 3, 4” and the other as “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” The building has a basement and five floors, but the fifth floor is used for mechanical purposes and is not accessible for shoppers, Harris said.
Harris, who purchased the key shop in 2014, after working there for 44 years, is retiring at the end of July.
The shop is a concession which pays Sears to operate inside the store, and at one time is was part of a national chain which Joseph Cole founded in the 1940s. “He operated key shops all across the country. They were basically huts,” Harris said.
“The old joke was anything that needed more than just ringing up a register was a concession. The hearing (center) was a concession,” Harris said. “Sears just rang up registers and did automotive.”
The current shop, which will close unless there is a last-minute buyer of the business, is located in a storefront in the automotive building, but at one time it was located in an 8-by-12-foot brick building in the parking lot, and there was little space for customers and workers. Harris said that when a vehicle knocked down the structure, he made sure the contractor added a few extra feet to the new building.
The shop has machines which can make any key imaginable, often in 12 seconds, Harris said. “If you have a 1952 Rolls Royce, I have a key for it,” he said.
In the 1970s, the store had 800 customers a week, but now 140 – in part a reflection of smaller crowds at Sears, Harris said.
The cost of the tour, which is intended for those age 10 and older, is $15, and it is expected to last about 2 hours. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com
The tour will start at 3:30 p.m. outside the store at the package pickup area near Cuyler and Kilpatrick avenues.