Will that be on your O’Neil’s card today?

In today’s world it’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of credit cards. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s when stores would begin issuing tokens to only their best and wealthy customers. These customers would be given the convenience of presenting their tokens to sales associates at checkout and then be billed at the end of the month, much the same as modern credit accounts.

Charga-Plate employee
Grace Wallace, an employee at Charga-Plates happily operates a notching machine to make new cards for customers.

By 1929 charge accounts would account for nearly half of all retail sales for stores who offered them. It wasn’t long after in 1935 that a standardized card based bookkeeping system known as Charga-Plate would gain popularity. Similar in look to a soldiers ‘dog tag’ these new plates would be notched with the customers name and address. The plate would simply be placed in a machine with a charge slip placed on top and then a ink ribbon would imprint the customers information onto the charge slip.

Employees of O'Neil's Akron preparing the new Charga-Plate system

In 1946, The Charga-Plate system would come to Akron, Ohio. The M. O’Neil Company, Polsky’s, and Yeager’s would all adopt the system and issue an Akron Charga-Plate which customers could use at any of the three stores.

Akron Ohio Charga Plate
Back side of an Akron Charga-Plate. These cards would be good at the three largest downtown Akron department stores.

O’Neil’s would continue to use the system up to the late 50s when they would establish their own line of store credit cards. These new cards would closely resemble the credit cards we are familiar with today though they would function similarly to the Charga-Plate with rollers imprinting the face of the card onto a sales receipt via carbon copy paper. This is the reason that some credit cards still have raised numbers to this day.

Vintage 60s O'Neil's Credit Card
A 70’s era O’Neil’s charge card courtesy of Leo Noser.

In 1969 the magnetic strip on the back of credit cards would be developed by IBM who still consider the invention one of their 100 greatest contributions to society. Initially this new technology was much to expensive and it wasn’t until the 1980s that many company’s went away from the imprint style machines to the new magnetic strips.

Now with just a swipe of a card an electronic machine would send the customers information to the card issuers computer and within seconds the computer could verify if the customer had sufficient credit to complete the sale.

Oneils charge advertisement akron ohio
Charge it at O’Neil’s Rolling Acres.

Customer’s at O’Neil’s would continue to swipe their cards until 1988 when owner The May Company would merge their O’Neils division into May Co. Cleveland and over time rebrand the stores as May Company.

 

The Joseph Horne Company Enters the Cleveland Market

In 1976 The Joseph Horne Company would open their second Ohio store and their first in the Cleveland market at the brand new Randall Park Mall. Though they were considered the new kid on the block in Cleveland, The Joseph Horne company had already been in business for 127 years with 13 stores in the Pittsburgh area as well as a branch location in Youngstown.

Though the Joseph Horne Company was part of the much larger Associated Dry Goods Company the move was still considered “gutsy” as the Cleveland market already featured retail heavyweights such as Higbee’s, The May Company, The Halle Brothers, JCPenney, and Sears.

Joseph Horne Company Randall Park Mall
Architectural rendering of the future Joseph Horne Company at Randall Park Mall – Image via Cleveland Public Library Image Collection.

Looking to make a splash, The Joseph Horne Company spent nearly 3 years on design  and construction of the Randall Park store making sure to place extra emphasis on the stores interior design quality. After all, what better way to accentuate the quality of the items being sold than to show them off in the most attractive environments and settings?

Joseph Horne Randall Park Mall
Exterior at Joseph Horne Company, Randall Park Mall

When finally completed the store would be sheer elegance from top to bottom with genuine wool carpets, real teak wood floors imported from Bangkok, velvet wallcoverings, brass accents, and in one area gold leaf molding around the ceiling.

The company’s hard work would pay-off though. On the stores opening day busloads of people jammed the aisleways to get their first look at the new kid from Pittsburgh. It was so busy there were lines just to get in. One frustrated shopper was quoted in The Plain Dealer as saying “What good is it to come to a store if you can’t even get in?”.

Joseph Horne storefront
One of the interior entrance’s to the Joseph Horne Company at Randall Park Mall – Image via Pinterest

Just inside the stores main entrance shoppers would find the men’s sportswear department with light ash wood cabinets and wall trim and a pattern of burgundy and gold carpet squares.

The stores central core would house a 58 foot bay area where two escalators would carry shoppers to different departments on each level of the store. This area would be dominated by a 23 foot high crystal chandelier. The chandelier would take 4 months to build and weigh in at a lofty 2,300 pounds with 1,900 of that in crystal alone. Dark mirrors would line the walls surrounding the escalator to reflect the lights of the chandelier throughout the escalator well.

The massive at chandelier at Horne’s weighed over a ton!

Directly beneath the chandelier was the cosmetics department which had a geometrically designed carpet of brown and white color.

From cosmetics following along the herringbone patterned teak wood path would bring you to the nearby accessories department, where shoppers would find handbags, jewelry, and scarfs all showcased in a Brazilian Rosewood display cabinet trimmed in brass.

Joseph Horne COmpany
Accessories department at Joseph Horne Company Randall Park store. – Image via Stores of the Year

The houseware’s department would feature a sunny yellow tile quarried in California. The area also had display racks made of butcher block and knotty pine and an 8×8 copper hood to showcase the stores wide assortment of brass pots and pans.

Joseph Horne Company store
Houseware’s department at Joseph Horne’s. – Image via Stores of the Year

In the juniors department walls were lined with mirrors and accented with neon. A large white neon “JR” would be a beacon shining bright to indicate the departments target age group and lure young customers in.

Hornes junior department
Plenty of mirrors and neon in the juniors department at Horne’s Randall Park store. – Image via Stores of the Year

Even the dressing rooms at Joseph Horne’s had an extra touch of class, with louvered doors trimmed with brass “S” shaped handles.

If that weren’t enough, the store also boasted a restaurant on the third level, Josephine’s Eating and Drinking Emporium, that could seat 150. With an impressive collection of art and antiques along and plenty of window seating to offer patrons breathtaking views of the North Randall countryside, Josephine’s was the perfect dinner spot to wind down a long afternoon of shopping.

Some of the fine dinner values available at Josephine’s Eating & Drinking Emporium.

Waiter! I’ll take the Quiche Lorraine please.

The Halle Brothers – Belden Village Mall

In 1970, after a hiatus of nearly 15 years, the Halle Brothers decided to return to the Canton, Ohio market in grand fashion, with an anchor store at the brand new Belden Village Mall. After over a year of extensive market research the Halle Brothers would determine that the Stark County area was already being more than adequately served by a number existing of full-line department stores. They needed a plan. Something different.

Halle Brothers Belden Village
Exterior entrance to Halle’s at Belden Village Mall from the company’s 1970 annual report.

So the Halle Brothers came up with “The Shop Concept”. With this new concept the Halle Brother’s would buck the notion of being a traditional department store selling items such as sporting goods, camera’s and toys, and focus strictly on higher end fashions and offering only quality merchandise from select lines. In this way the Halle Brothers thought they could better serve the needs of area residents.

The Halle Brothers also realized there would be other retailers already offering similar lines of merchandise at comparable prices. They would attempt to overcome this hurdle by stressing innovation in merchandising techniques and offering high quality service.

Halle's Belden Village
Halle’s Interior entrance at Belden Village Mall Grand Opening.

Now that the company had their business model, they needed someone who could bring their innovation into reality. They brought in Rudi Baumfield of Gruen and Associates. Rudi was somewhat a legend of retail design at the time, he was the man who designed the first enclosed two level shopping mall in the United States as well as designing more than a dozen Joseph Magnin stores on the west coast.

Belden Village Canton Ohio
What’s Happening at Halle’s in Belden Village Mall.

Rudi’s plan would feature wide aisles, bright colors, and subtle lighting. There would be thick carpeting throughout the store with the exception of some small surfaces in the men’s department and at the entrances, which were covered in black tile. The various departments would be recessed from the main aisles and be decorated in their own distinct manner, giving the illusion of small shops rather than a department store.

Halle Brothers Belden Village
A showcase of the Rudi Baumfield designed store featuring the artificial skylight as a centerpiece.

The store would feature a stunning 20 X 116 foot artificial skylight in the center of the sales floor. The skylight consisted of four colors of plexiglass arranged in randomly rising and falling four-sided pyramids almost looking like an optical illusion.

Halle's Belden Village
Closeup view of the pyramid like optical illusion skylight.

In addition to being one of the most appealing retail outlets in the area, the Halle Brothers also stressed that one of the most important factors to running a successful operation was the quality of service. And they would make sure of this at their Belden Village store. Out of a near 700 applicants for jobs, they selected only the top 120.

Higbee’s – Randall Park Mall

In the early 1970s Edward J. DeBartolo was quickly becoming one of the biggest single developers of shopping centers in the country. Already having a strong foothold in the Northeast Ohio market owning and operating Great Lakes Mall, Summit Mall, and Richmond Mall, DeBartolo was planning for something bigger for the area. Something like maybe the biggest shopping mall that anyone had ever seen.

Ed Debartolo Sr.
The king of shopping centers, Edward J. Debartolo and son Eddie more than likely scheming on where to build the next mall.

So in 1973 construction began on Randall Park Mall in North Randall Ohio. The mall would be a massive 2,200,000 square feet and its size would unseat A. Alfred Taubman of the Taubman Company as the “Builder of the World’s Largest Shopping Center” and cement Mr. DeBartolo’s legacy as the true king of mall developers.

Higbee's Randall Park Mall Under Construction
This 1974 image from Higbee’s Annual Report shows the interior construction of Randall Park Mall from the viewpoint of the Higbee’s store entrance.

A shopping center of such grandeur would of course need some pretty remarkable anchor stores, and where better to start than with a Cleveland local, The Higbee Company. Higbee’s, already having been in the business 116 years, had truly blossomed into the area leader in full service department stores when they opened their ninth store at Randall Park in 1976.

Higbee's Randall Adventure Game
Higbee’s Randall Adventure Game featuring the many departments of the store from the Cleveland Plain Dealer Special Randall Park Mall Grand Opening section.

With the Randall Park location, the Higbee Company would look to open their fanciest store yet. A two level store of 195,000 square feet. The upper level of the store would house a complete fashion center for the entire family with departments such as The Signature Shop for men, a complete Designer Shop for women featuring many of the top brands, a Pro Shop for sports clothing, and of course the Junior Area and Student Shop for the kids.

Make a name for yourself in the Higbee’s Signature Shop for Men.
Higbee's Footwear department
Fancy footwear for the ladies from all the best brands.

On the lower level of the store you could find additional departments such as Housewares, Gifts and Gourmets, Books, Toys, and Form & Function, an all new contemporary furniture and home accessory shop which borrowed strongly from the highly successful Higbee’s Westgate Home Center.

Gifts at Higbee's Randall Park Mall
Gifts and gourmet abound on the lower level of the new Higbee’s at Randall Park Mall.

It’s easy to see how one could get caught up and make a whole day out of a trip to Higbee’s alone. There was even a restaurant, The Racing Silks Dining Room, where customers could stop and have lunch or visit The Pronto Room for a quick coffee or nibble.

Randall Park Higbees restaurant
Fine dining in The Racing Silks Restaurant at Randall Park Mall.

The Great Department Store Mini-Bike Craze

In 1959 the Michrina Brothers would deliver their first mini-bike prototypes to former Indianapolis 500 winner Troy Ruttman to sell at his car dealership. These first prototypes were known as “Lil Indians” and they would spark the craze that had little kids begging their parents for a mini-bike. Other brands would soon follow, Taco, Bonanza, Arctic Cat, and Rupp, just to name a few, and soon the major department stores would be selling their own mini bikes as well.

Montgomery Ward Mini Bikes
Advertisement showcasing the 1970 line of Montgomery Ward Mini Bikes.

Montgomery Ward’s offerings into the market included the “sassy” 323 which at only 3hp was no speed demon but certainly still looks like a lot of fun, the “lively” 424 which came with shocks and a 4hp engine, and the “swingin” 525 which packed a full 5hp, 2 speeds, and racing wheels.

Penney’s offered similar bikes, but with slightly cooler names like Big Blue, El Tigre, Swinger, and the super cool chopper inspired Duster with its high-rise handlebars and backrest.

JCPenney Mini Bike
JCPenney had a solid selection of mini bikes.

And Sears? Yeah well, Sears was Sears. Though as a kid I would have been absolutely delighted beyond belief to have woken up on Christmas to find myself a new owner of a Puncher, it’s also quite obviously the least cool of the bunch.

sears Mini Bike
The complete Sears mini-bike lineup featuring “The Puncher”.

In 1973 mini bike sales peaked at 140,000 units from over a hundred different manufacturers. There was even a new sport “Mini-Bike Soccer” which had racers from both teams merging at center field at full speed for the opening kick-off (I hope they were wearing helmets). Just a few years later in 1976 the craze was over and mini bikes fell out of favor with kids who now wanted dirt bikes. Blasphemy.

Sears – Tri-County Mall

“This is Sears Today” is theme Sears chose to introduce their model store to the Cincinnati area.
1967 – Tri-County Mall

The two story store (pictured above) featured 52 different departments including an auto center and a restaurant. In the 60’s Sears had the philosophy of which it was obligated to purchase as much of its merchandise as possible locally. In 1965 alone Sears purchased merchandise worth nearly 37 million dollars from 70 different Cincinnati manufacturers.

2018 – Sears at Tri-County Mall

The above image shows a view of the Sears storefront at Tri-County Mall in Cincinnati two days before closing its doors for good in 2018, marking the end of a magnificent 51 year run at this location.

1987 Sears Video Wishbook – Santa’s Favorites

In 1987 Sears released their first in-home video catalog featuring an exciting collection of Sears exclusive electronic toys.

Sears Video Wishbook VHS

Some fun things to watch out for in the video:

  • Joey’s sweet shirt
  • Hillary being a great big sister offering to teach Joey to use the Computron
  • Ronny learns the true meaning of Christmas
  • Electronic toys can be fun
  • Humble Hillary admitting they could be better kids

 

 

Go ahead and put me down for a Lobo II and a Talking Computron.

I have no idea if Sears continued the idea of the video wishbook in following years or if this was a one year and done thing, though it does seem like a good idea as near the end of the 80’s nearly 90% of american homes had VCR’s, and in the 80’s we all loved our Christmas catalogs.

Missed out on all the great toys? You can still get one of these retro inspired buttons from Untitled Colours.

Bon-Ton Merchandising Stategies

On a recent road trip to visit some closing Bon-Ton stores, I decided to take a look in the dumpster behind the the Olean Mall store. This video cassette is one of the wonderful treasures I found that day.

Bon-Ton VHS tape

In “Merchandising Strategies” you are introduced to several of the Bon-Ton’s “Core Merchandising Strategies” such as gifts, impulse items, and differentiation of product to set the Bon-Ton apart from other similar stores.

Next its on to learn about the private brands behind the success of Bon-Ton such as Ruf-Hewn, Laura Ashley, Cezani, and Living Quarterss

You will also be introduced to the product development team who give you a one on one detailed behind the scenes profile for each of the Bon-Ton’s private brands.

Without any further ado Mallwalkers presents to you, “Merchandising Strategies”. Enjoy.

Still awake after watching “Merchandising Stategies”?  Check out this wonderful Rolling Acres Mall video from 2003 to help cleanse your eyes, mind, and sprit.

 

Store Showcase: Burdines Florida Department Store

Between the 1970s and 1980s Burdines was flourishing, and it was time to refine their image. The answer…”the Florida Strategy”. To separate themselves from the competition, Burdines would offer products tailored to the tropical climate. Sunshine fashions, if you will.

Burdines Florida Storefront

When other department stores were selling routine winter merchandise, Bourdines would continue to offer warm weather products. Bathing suits, shorts and skirts, and linen pieces were continually on the floor with a few cotton sweaters and wintertime coats mixed in.

Burdines Shopping Bag

Burdines paid special attention to meet the popular demographics of each store depending on its location. For instance Burdines carried an extensive juniors line in their Gainesville location, which is home to the University of Florida as well as Santa Fe College. While other locations carried styles befitting of the Palm Beach socialite, or tailored to the Northerner now living in the Sunshine State.

Burdines Florida

Bourdines designed the store interiors with an overall tropical atmosphere. The color scheme was coastal and the designs were that of palm trees and the ocean. There were atriums, skylights and ceilings painted sky blue with just a few scattering clouds.

Burdines Florida Storefront

Burdines flawlessly captured the sense of style, fashion and aura that is Florida and will forever remain “The Florida Store”.

Burdines Credit Card