Sears Finally Gets A Home On Arsenal Street In 1948
Until its recent closing at Salmon Run Mall, Sears Roebuck and Co. had been one of the names synonymous with retail and shopping in Northern New York. Over the course of 80+ years, the store had managed to spend the majority of those years, 71 in fact, in just two locations: the Salmon Run Mall from 1986 until its closer in 2019 and, prior to that, 250 Arsenal Street from 1948 until 1986.
Sears, which opened its first local store in 1935, was actually planning to open one several years earlier when the Jacobs residence on lower Court Street was put up for sale. Court Street was quickly becoming the retail corridor for Watertown with stores like the Globe amongst many others and Sears very much intended to build a store there. In fact, they had all BUT built it according to a March 13, 1929 Watertown Daily Times article–
SEARS & ROEBUCK SELECTS A SITE
Official Announcement Made By R. E. Wood, President of Company
Philadelphia, Pa., March 13 — Sears, Roebuck and Company, nationally known merchandising firm, now operating a nation-wide chain of retails stores, will open a new retail store in Watertown in the near future, according to an announcement made today by R. E. Wood, president of the company.
Watertown’s new retail store will be located at 231 Court Street, in the new building, comprising two stories and a basement, owned by Charles Khan of Philadelphia. The new establishment is on the site accessible to all parts of the city and is in a neighborhood which affords unlimited parking. There is also additional space for this purpose in the rear of the store.
And suddenly, FWWRRRRRPPPPPP! The needle skipped off the record.
Somehow, all the “i’s” weren’t dotted and “t’s” crossed as Montgomery Ward swooped in and procured the rights to the location, constructing their new store that opened in early 1930. Sears would have to wait another five years before leasing space at 40 Public Square in the Commerce Building.
In 1948, construction would start on Arsenal Street next to the Arsenal Street School for a new Sears, Roebuck and Co. store. It would require the razing of a couple of old homes, but by mid September, the Watertown Daily Times would report the store was about ready to open–
The new Sears, Roebuck & Company store, with frontages on Arsenal, North Massey and Coffeen Streets, will make its official opening at 9 Thursday morning, it was announced today by Frank A. Ready, manager.
A brief ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the official opening of the store, one of the most modern business establishments in northern New York. Plans are being made to have Mayor Henry A. Hudson cut the ribbon at the main doors just prior to the store’s opening to the general public.
…And What An Opening It Was
An estimated 50,000 people visited the new Sears store at 250 Arsenal Street its very first day. The Times would report–
The estimate of the first day visitors is based on tabulation conducted by the Sears company through a card system whereby each person signed his name and deposited the slip at various points in the store.
A total of 25,000 roses were distributed to women on Thursday. The Sears store was thronged throughout the day, the heaviest crowd being noticeable in the afternoon and evening. The store was opened from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
On December 4th of 1948, Santa would make a special appearance on the roof of Sears service station. It wasn’t Rudolph that brought him, though – he landed via a helicopter to a crowd the Watertown Daily Times estimated to be over 7,000 people in the parking lot, predominately packed with children as the crowd stretched to Coffeen Street.
Over the years, Sears would slowly begin to lose some of its neighbors. The first to go would be its immediate neighbor on the corner of Massey and Arsenal Streets, the Arsenal Street School in 1973, sold in an auction and replaced with a gas station.
The Greater Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co, aka A&P, would leave its location at 237 Arsenal Street two years later for the new Nichols Plaza further down Arsenal Street. Shortly afterward, the Little Book Shop, located in the A&P parking lot next to the Arsenal Street Fire Station No. 1 for many years, would be forced off the property with Mercy Hospital purchasing the property.
Lastly, the St. Patrick School near the opposite corner of Massey and Arsenal Streets would close its doors in 1981 and be razed later that year after moving its classes to the former Massey Street School.
Five years later, after 38 years at its 250 Arsenal Street location, it would be Sears turn to move joining the downtown exodus of other Arsenal Street businesses like JCPenney to the Salmon Run Mall where it would become one of the anchor stores. It would remain there for 33 more years before closing in 2019 after having dodged many closure lists as a variety of missteps and factors lead to the brand’s decline over the last couple of decades.
As of September 2021, CNBC.com would report there to be 35 Sears stores still in operation. As of March 14, 2022, the number is down to 23.
Today, the site of the former Sears store at 250 Arsenal Street is occupied by Jefferson County Social Services. The county purchased the building from Sears after they vacated it in 1986 for $600,000.