Roadside Americana – discount department stores


The discount department stores listed below represent memories of the golden age of sprawl (if there is such a thing as a golden age for sprawl). Many of these were local and/or regional chains that grew out of a full-line department store in order to compete with the national discounters. For example, in my hometown of Indianapolis, Ayr-Way was started by L.S. Ayres. They eventually had stores all over Indiana and much of Kentucky.



Personally, I recall many trips with my parents to the Ayr-Way stores in Nora or Augusta, which are both on the far northside of Indianapolis. These two stores, as with the entire Ayr-Way chain, were later absorbed and converted into Target. Due to heavy competition from Walmart, Target, and Meijer, many of these chains are long gone and the only reminder are sad, shuttered/abandoned units along an old commercial highway. Others are now occupied by flea markets or second-hand stores.



See how many you many of these stores you remember and please feel free to forward any others that I might have missed. The list does NOT include five and dime stores like Ben Franklin, McCrory, G.C. Murphy, Kresge, Kress, or Woolworth, as those were a different retail niche, though some of those chains did start successful discount department stores like Kmart, Murphy Mart and Woolco.



Here’s the list with links to their history and the year they were closed or taken over. The ones I have shopped at are shown in italics.

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4 Responses to Roadside Americana – discount department stores

  1. Chip Millard says:

    One regional chain that was popular in its (and my) home area when I was growing up in the 1980s was Laneco, based in the Lehigh Valley (i.e. the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton area) in eastern Pennsylvania. Laneco had three different types of stores that I remember – a grocery-only store (these stores were called Food Lane), a discount department-only store, and a combined grocery/discount department store; the two Laneco locations I went to the most growing up were in the last category. In some ways, Laneco (at least in eastern Pennsylvania) was Walmart before there was Walmart. (The first Walmart stores didn’t arrive in the Lehigh Valley until about 1993.) More information about Laneco can be found in its Wikipedia entry:

    Besides Laneco, which was probably the most common discount department store in the Lehigh Valley, other stores listed above I remember from my youth include Ames (not located in the Lehigh Valley, at least in the 1980s, but common in more rural areas in eastern Pennsylvania), Bradlees, Caldor, Clover, and Jamesway. I also remember Jefferson Ward and Hills, though in central or western Pennsylvania and not the Lehigh Valley. Kmart was (and still is) very common in eastern Pennsylvania, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they join the defunct discount department store list in the next few years. By contrast, Walmart didn’t arrive in eastern Pennsylvania until the early 1990s and Target didn’t come into that region until around 2000.

    In addition to the above, one other discount department store I remember from my youth was Nichols (or now that I’ve looked it up, Nichols Discount City). The only Nichols I remember was located in my father’s hometown of Bloomsburg, PA and existed until sometime in the 1980s.


    • Rick Brown says:

      Interesting. Thank you!


    • Chip Millard says:

      There was one other discount department store I didn’t mention in my comment above from 4 years ago that I remember from my youth, and it was one of the more famous ones – Woolworth’s. I don’t actually remember Woolco (the original discount department store owned by Woolworth’s in its Five and Dime days), but I believe when Woolco went out of business or the chain was downsized, many of those stores became or were modified into Woolworth’s stores. It’s also possible the smaller square footage stores in the chain were called Woolworth’s all along even when they had a selection of products similar to the larger discount department stores. The Woolworth’s I remember was in the Whitehall Mall outside of Allentown; it wasn’t a true anchor store like the other anchors in that mall (which in the 1980s and early 1990s were Clover, Sears, and Leh’s, the last of which was a small Allentown-based department store chain), but it wasn’t that much smaller than the anchor stores space-wise. That particular Woolworth’s also had a snack bar where you could buy soft pretzels, hot dogs, and Icee’s, along with a limited number of other food and beverage products. I’m unsure if that was common with the chain or unique to only a small number of Woolworth’s locations.

      I miss the days when I used to go to Laneco and Clover fairly often and Ames, Bradlees, Caldor, Jamesway, and Woolworth’s occasionally, and when Kmart was a strong chain worth visiting. (Unfortunately, many Kmarts now look like they haven’t been remodeled or updated since I was growing up in the 1980s.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah says:

    In fact, – unless we start to think for ourselves, provide for ourselves and be responsible – not a single thing is gonna change. My ex-husband was like this – passive, childish and demanding, now he is sitting on cracked all-day upvoting puns about jerking off. If you don’t strive, you lose it. Great write-up. xOxOx Sarah-


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