8 Cool Stores We Miss

By Paul Michael on 10 July 2015 1 comment

It is sadly the way of life that all good things must come to an end. And retail stores are no exception. When we look back at the places at which we loved to shop, we may have thought they would be around forever. Who could have known that, just twenty years ago, the Internet would come along and change everything.

Here are eight of those cool stores that are now just a memory.

1. Sharper Image

Founded in 1977, just 38 years ago, Sharper Image was the brainchild of Richard Thalheimer. Originally a catalog business for jogging watches, it grew into a retail giant known for selling the latest cool gadgets and gizmos designed to help us live better lives (or spend a ton of money on birthday presents). How many of us stopped into a Sharper Image when we were shopping at the mall to sit in the latest massage chair, or test-drive some remote-controlled car or plane?

Of course, the Internet took its toll on Sharper Image, with everything in the stores available in some form or another on Amazon, eBay, and a bunch of other online outlets. In 2008, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and closed every single retail store. You can still shop online at Sharper Image, but it's just not the same. The retail stores were an experience, not just a place to pop in and buy something.

2. Wild Oats Market

Founded in 1987 in Boulder, Colorado, Wild Oats was at the forefront of bringing natural foods to the masses. From humble beginnings, with just one store, it became the third largest natural food chain in the USA. Wild Oats Markets were a treasure trove of goodies that supplied everything from fresh organic fruit and veg, to coffee beans, canned and jarred goods, snacks, and a whole lot more. But, they were no match for Whole Foods, who tried to acquire the company in 2007. That deal went sour, and as is the case with many stores in the list, Walmart became the reason for the closure of the Wild Oats stores around the country.

Now, the only way you can get Wild Oats products is to buy them at a Walmart or a Fresh & Easy store. It's a shame that a store that had its roots firmly planted in delivering the freshest, most natural ingredients ended up being swallowed by the retail giant that is Walmart.

3. Tower Records

There was a reason some people (cool people) loved Tower Records, and others couldn't stand to be in the store. It was claustrophobic; stacked from floor to ceiling with amazing finds, cheap CDs, bizarre DVDs, and a ton of vinyl. Every trip to Tower Records was another chance to broaden your horizons.

Started in 1960 by Russell Solomon, it was named after his father's drugstore in the same building as the Tower Theater. It grew into a giant, with stores from the UK to Colombia and the Philippines. But it grew too fast, and too far, and acquired massive debt from the expansion. Chapter 11 bankruptcy couldn't save it, and Tower Records closed the last of its physical locations in 2007.

4. Borders

Once upon a time, when you wanted a book, you went to a local bookstore. Then along came Borders, and combined the humble bookstore with music, coffee, DVDs, and everything else the entertainment enthusiast could want. It was great. But it did have a slight drawback; everything was really overpriced.

Sure enough, Borders became a place where you would browse for a half hour, or more, but just never bit the bullet because you could find it cheaper online. And that flaw became the reason the big book chain went under in 2011. Its biggest rival, Barnes & Noble, had a much better pricing model, and the member perks also helped. Not to mention, the big bargain book section as you enter the front of the store. But for some reason, not having a Borders around seems sad.

5. KB Toys

As a kid, seeing the KB Toys logo in the malls and outlets shopping centers was awesome. Although it was no Toys 'R Us, you could always find something cool and affordable in there. As well as name brands, KB Toys carried a lot of the cheaper versions of popular items, and always had special deals and sale items to help stretch your allowance. Having started in 1922, founded by the Kaufman Brothers (KB), it seemed like KB Toys would be around forever.

So, what changed? You guessed it. Walmart's buying power and locations meant that KB Toys couldn't compete with the retail giant. They struggled to stay afloat after a bankruptcy in 2004, and then finally closed down in 2009. Toys 'R Us scooped up what remained of the company.

6. Woolworths

Originally known as F.W. Woolworth Co., named after its founder Frank Winfield Woolworth, this was the first "five-and-dime" store in America. Opened in 1878, and re-opened in 1879, "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store" sold a variety of household goods at discounted prices…usually at five cents. This pricing model became five and 10 cents, where the term "five-and-dime store" came from. And it was a very successful business for over 100 years, expanding its reach across the U.S. and the world, until the rise of the K-Mart and Walmart brands.

Woolworths (or Woolies to those of us who grew up in the UK) became the cheap cousin to those giants, even though we all enjoyed the low pricing and eclectic mix of products. The stores were also much smaller than the big marts, meaning you could find one in a high street or strip mall. On July 7th, 1997, Woolworths closed its last stores in the USA, and changed its corporate name to Venator. Never heard of them? You're not alone.

7. Filene's Basement

If you're a fan of Ross and T.J. Maxx, you were no doubt in love with Filene's Basement. Also known as simply "The Basement," it was founded in 1908, and was America's oldest off-price retailer. One of the reasons everyone loved Filene's was the annual "Running of the Brides," which gave future wives the chance to pick up a bridal gown for an insanely low price.

You would think any kind of economic crisis would actually help a store that sells clothing at discounts, but for some reason the troubles of 2009 wreaked havoc with the chain. In 2011, the last Filene's Basement closed its doors for good. You can still shop at Filene's Basement online, but the experience is nowhere near the same. And of course, you can't really run anywhere when you're hunkered in front of a computer screen.

8. Hollywood Video

Unlike Blockbuster Video, a store that dominated the movie rental world and abused us with horrendous late fees and big rental prices, Hollywood Video had a much more friendly approach to movies. The store was way cooler inside, opting for a darker, more industrial look, and staying away from the insipid bright lights and nasty carpeting of Blockbuster. They also had $1 rental deals on movies and games, and their pre-viewed purchases were priced to sell. Even when the last Blockbuster store was closing, their old DVDs and Blu-rays were priced higher than new ones on Amazon. It was always fun to pop into a HV and peruse the Friday night films or new releases.

Of course, not even a decent chain like Hollywood Video could compete with Netflix, and the many streaming services offered online. It was just impossible for them to stay afloat, and in 2010 the last of its stores closed for good.

What stores do you miss?

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Guest's picture
Robert

Circuit City was my first choice for electronics back in the day. I always felt like they were cheaper than Best Buy.

Guest's picture
Guest

Crown Books was another bookstore that closed its doors with the lawsuits among the Haft family. Loehmann's is a bygone era of discount retail. Video Americain, a local video chain, also closed due to the owner's health and the Internet.