1938 - Sears located at Seventh and Main streets (Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Through the years with Sears in Riverside

For nearly 85 years, national retail giant Sears has operated a “brick & mortar” store at three different locations in Riverside, with almost 50 of those years spent at its current Arlington Avenue location.

However, the first two Sears stores were both located downtown, with the original store opening in February 1929 on the northwest corner of Fifth and Main streets (479 Main Street — now 3479):

The building, which belongs to Gandy Realty company, was remodeled especially for Sears … The new store has a frontage of 75 feet on Main Street. It will carry a stock of 5,500 items of merchandize …

Riverside Daily Press – February 15, 1929

Situated three blocks north from what was then the heart of downtown, the store consisted of a single level with mezzanine and was selected partly for the ample free parking available on an adjacent lot. According to newspaper articles on the store’s development, Sweet’s Grocery and Coomber’s meats were also part of the newly-expanded building.

(Speculation at the time suggested Montgomery Ward — and not Sears — had signed a lease for the Gandy Building, which had recently been vacated by Mott’s Furniture store. However, Montgomery Ward would open a few months later — in June 1929 — on Main Street near Eleventh. By 1935, however, MW would relocate to Ninth & Main*, in the former Reynold’s Department Store.)

In an interesting side note, the store manager of Sears — A.S. Graff — was cleared in July 1933 of charges in violating the city’s “anti-handbill” ordinance after hiring local kids to distribute advertising flyers. Just a month later, however, Graff was replaced as store manager by C.A. Jeffery.

In June 1938, a much larger store opened two blocks south on the southeast corner of Seventh (Mission Inn Avenue) and Main streets. Costing nearly $200,000, the building was designed by Riverside architect Henry L.A. Jekel and built by Riverside contractors Cresmer & Emtman. The reinforced concrete, Art Deco style building replaced the fancier red-brick Rubidoux Building that had been built in 1890-91.

The new two-story building also contained a mezzanine and full basement and stretched 98 feet along Main Street and 150 feet along Seventh Street. Sears resided within 38,000 square feet of the building, allowing smaller portions for Bailey Stationery Co., Banks Drug Co. and Tiernan’s Typewriters (with Banks and Tiernan’s taking up the ground and basement levels at the corner and for nearly half of the Main Street frontage). At the rear along Seventh Street was a small, “drive-in” automotive service room that performed minor repairs.

With immediate neighbors the likes of Westbrook’s, Grout’s and J.C. Penney — plus Rouse’s and Montgomery Ward within two blocks — the new location at 3720 Main Street was closer to downtown’s primary retail trade area and was seen as an improvement to the corner:

With the completion of the new Sears, Roebuck and company building on the southeast corner, the intersection of Seventh and Main streets now becomes one of the leading mercantile centers of Riverside … New neon lights over Banks drug store and Tiernan typewriter company and Sears itself do much to beautify and illuminate the intersection …

Riverside Daily Press – June 1, 1938

By the early 1950s, Sears would occupy the entire building. And according to the late local historian Tom Patterson, Sears further expanded into the adjacent building at the rear along Seventh Street. The additional space within the former Victoria Hotel (where Mario’s Place restaurant is today) enabled Sears to relocate its automotive services (ground level) and administrative offices (second level). Overhead walkways in the alley connecting the two buildings, which city permit records indicate were issued in 1954, remain in place today.

Sears remained at the Seventh & Main streets location for 26 years until relocating to a large, newly-built suburban-style store at 5261 Arlington Avenue in 1964:

… (the building) will include its own emergency electrical plant, 500 tons of reinforcing steel, 10,000 cubic yards of concrete and 4,700 fluorescent lamps … (and have) about 600 employees, more than double the present (downtown) force.

Riverside Daily Enterprise – November 12, 1963

Located on 19 acres the northeast corner of Arlington and Streeter avenues, the 93,000 sq. ft., $3 million store was Sears’ largest in Inland Southern California when it opened (city permits indicate it as being 112,000 sq. ft.). As a “Class A” store with ground and basement levels, it offered the retailer’s complete line of merchandise. It also included a 76-seat restaurant and full-service automotive fueling and repair station. (The auto repair facility still exists; however, the nearby fueling station has since been removed.)

Designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Charles Luckman** & Associates with Lindgren & Swinnerton as the general contractors, the Arlington Avenue store contains many of Sears’ hallmark mid-century designs, including canopy walkways, stone veneer, metal facade and palm trees. (Luckman would also design the distinctive department store building for The Broadway*** that opened in 1970 at Riverside’s Tyler Mall (now Galleria at Tyler).)

As a stand-alone Sears, the Arlington Avenue store remains a bit of an anomaly among department stores opened after 1960, with most having been built as anchors for malls typically placed near freeways. With the Riverside Sears having neither attribute, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long it remains in its somewhat isolated location. Whatever happens, we hope the building’s modern, mid-century designs manage to survive unchanged as they essentially have for the past 50 years.

(2024 UPDATE: In November 2019, it was announced that Sears Holdings would close 96 Sears and K-Mart stores nationwide by February 2020, including 28 California stores. On the list were seven Sears stores located in Inland Southern California: Montclair, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert, Riverside, San Bernardino, Temecula, and Victorville. The site of the former Riverside store is awaiting possible adaptive re-use or redevelopment. In September 2022, a mixed-use proposal of housing and retail — that included demolition of the iconic, mid-century building — was unveiled by Riverside Property Owner, LLC, a partnership between Foulger-Pratt and Seritage Growth Properties. Some residents expressed concerns over the size of the proposal and the demolition of the old Sears building. As of May 2024, it’s unclear if the proposal is moving forward.)


Photos as noted courtesy of: *City of Riverside, **Loyola Marymount University – Charles Luckman Collection, ***Jim Van Schaak

Sources: City of Riverside (Planning Database), Riverside Public Library (Local Subject Files), The Press-Enterprise (RDP-19281217, RDP-19281226, RDP-19290116, RDP-19290215, RDP-19290605, RDP-19330715, RDP-19330816, RDP-19380528, RDP-19380601, DE-19631112, PE-19831016, PE-20191108, PE-20220918)

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