Shopping on the boulevard: When Oak Cliff had department stores

A 1950s photo shows the Hunt’s Department store on Jefferson at Madison. Hunt’s took that space after Sears moved to its building on Jefferson at Llewellyn in 1948. (Photo courtesy of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)

Oak Cliff went from a shopping destination to a retail ghost town

The Sears & Roebuck Co. on South Lamar in Dallas compared only to the retail giant’s headquarters in Chicago. By 1915, it comprised tens of thousands of square feet in a three-building retail/warehouse complex, which served customers across the region.

Sears opened its second Dallas store at 303 W. Jefferson at Bishop in 1928, on the ground floor of what is now the Jefferson Tower. It was among the company’s first suburban stores, the start of a trend that would shape suburban America. Sears would be the largest retailer, and one of the longest lasting, in the history of Jefferson Boulevard.

Business was so good at Sears on Jefferson that within the first year, it moved out of its original 9,000-square-foot space — today the Family Dollar store — into a larger space on the opposite end of the building, Jefferson at Madison, adding clothing, shoes, fabric and sewing supplies. The store also had a drugstore, toiletries, furniture, sporting goods, sewing machines, bicycles, paint, hardware and hen-keeping supplies.

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A vintage postcard shows the Sears, Roebuck & Co. building on South Lamar.

 

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Sears operated at that location for almost 20 years before it built a three-story 65,000-square-foot building on Jefferson at Llewellyn, which opened in 1948.

The same year, J.C. Penney opened a store at 425 W. Jefferson, now a Famsa store. Also that year, homegrown Hunt’s Department Store moved from its location at 611 E. Jefferson, a former dry-goods store in Oak Cliff’s original downtown, to the old Sears space, on Jefferson at Madison.

These department stores helped other retailers — Rick’s Furniture, Zales jewelry store, high-end men’s clothier Roland Ellis and many more shops — to thrive on the boulevard. The Jefferson Boulevard commercial district was a shopping destination, serving Oak Cliff and southern Dallas County for decades.

The end of that era came in the mid-1970s.

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Red Bird Mall opened in 1975 with Sears and J.C. Penney as its anchors. The Sears store on Jefferson closed; Penney’s hung onto its Jefferson location for a few years, but then it closed too.

Rick’s Furniture moved into the massive Sears building, which is now the site of Fiesta grocery store.

Colbert-Volk department store closed its Jefferson location after a fire in 1976, but the Volk’s at Wynnewood Village had opened in 1951 and would last into the 1980s. The one-story, 20,000-square-foot Volk’s famously kept four woolly monkeys in glassed-in, climate-controlled quarters inside the children’s area.

Montgomery Ward opened its second Dallas store at Wynnewood Village in 1961. Titche-Goettinger, which opened its first store in 1902 in downtown’s Wilson Building, closed its Wynnewood Village store sometime in the 1960s. Plans for a new $5-million Titche’s building in the Village Fair shopping center at Interstate 35 and Loop 12 never materialized. A brand-new Penney’s, “one of the company’s largest and most modern … in the nation,” also was planned for Village Fair in the late ’60s. But that shopping center, now Big T Bazaar, didn’t open until 1972, about seven years after it was first announced. Penney’s put one of three experimental discount stores there in the mid-1970s, but Village Fair never took off as a major retail center.

Like most urban areas of America in the 1970s, Oak Cliff’s department stores moved out to suburban malls. For Oak Cliff, that meant to Westcliff Mall, which opened on Hampton at Ledbetter in the 1960s and poached Zales from Jefferson Boulevard. And it meant to Red Bird Mall, now known as Southwest Center Mall. That mall saw its heyday in the 1980s, but is still open with Macy’s, Burlington Coat Factory and, to this day, Sears.

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  • Jim Kidd

    As a South Oak Cliff resident, the “Village” ( I remember hearing that it would be named South Park) at Ledbetter and 35 was something we were looking forward to opening. We heard it would be as big-or bigger- than North Park. White Flight to DeSoto and other communities pretty much killed that idea.

  • Smokey

    The A. Harris center was built by A. Harris who indeed was a partner in Sanger Harris. The store was operated at the end by Sanger Harris company and not Harris Bros. as would have been the case prior to the merger. I last shopped in that store in 1972 around graduation and purchased a calico shirt with Tom Jones bellowed sleeves and a wide leather belt embossed with a hand painted desert scene. It had been announced that Sanger Harris was to be part the “Village” planned at Ledbetter and 35 south. All the infrastructure including roads and bridges were completed but the major tenants never materialized.

  • WSIII

    I thought the A. Harris Center closed after the merger with Sanger. Still miss that shopping center.

  • Smokey

    Susan it was 73′ as I recall. Many hung on for a while after Red Bird opened. Jas. K Wilson, EM Kahn were great men’s stores. I remember old timers warmed up to Wynnewood but never really accepted Red Bird. I also remember Sanger’s at A. Harris Center was another casualty of Red Bird.

  • lakewoodhobo

    I look forward to seeing Jefferson come back as a boutique retail destination (keep the quinceañera shops, but replace those pawn shops and check-cashing places ASAP), knowing that national retail won’t ever again be part of that equation.

    Wynnewood Village is another story entirely. With I-35 getting ready to expand, presumably with longer access roads near Illinois Ave, there’s no better time to reposition Wynnewood as a regional shopping center. There’s absolutely no reason why new ownership can’t rebuild the place and stick an Old Navy, Kohl’s or Belk there along with decent fast-casual restaurants advertised to drivers along the interstate. Remember that Wynnewood predates I-35 and it fronts Zang, where no one can see it.

  • Susan

    Actually, I don’t believe the Titches in Wynnwood closed until the 70s.