West 63rd Street & South Halsted Street
The leading department store on Chicago’s South Side during the first third of the twentieth century was the Becker-Ryan department store, which stood on the northeast corner of 63rd and Halsted Street’s in the Englewood business district.
The first retail establishment to do business on the site was the Boldenweck Dry Goods store. In 1889, the same year that Englewood, then just a booming crossroads village, was annexed to the city of Chicago, Boldenweck’s constructed an impressive new structure in which to conduct business. At the time, the new multi-story building was one of the largest structures ever built in Englewood and featured a brownstone façade, fancy turrets, and other architectural features common to commercial structures built in the late 1880s. A stone arch over the 63rd street entryway bore the year of the building’s completion.
In 1901, the successful Boldenweck business was purchased by Morris Rosenwald, brother of the famous Sears and Roebuck executive, and Louis Becker, a successful retailer from Goshen, Indiana. One year later, with the addition of John Ryan and Simon Becker to the partnership, the store assumed the name under which it enjoyed its most spectacular growth.
Over the years, the Becker-Ryan store expanded through the acquisition of nearby properties. By the late 1920s, it had grown to occupy nearly an entire city block, including the length of Halsted between 62nd and 63rd Streets. The firm claimed that between 1889 and 1934, nearly thirty-five million customers shopped at the store.
In 1929, Becker-Ryan was purchased by Sears Roebuck and Company, Chicago’s famous mail-order merchandiser. The acquisition was part of a new business strategy adopted by Sears executives during the 1920s. Sears had typically catered to rural Americans who lacked the ability to make regular visits to department stores located in distant towns or cities. As automobile usage increased during the 1920s, especially among rural Americans, Sears saw its dominance over the rural markets slip. When growth of its mail-order business slowed in the 1920s, Sears executives attempted to diversify the company’s operations by opening retail outlets across the nation. The new stores, it was hoped, would boost the company’s profits by offering the company’s products to a segment of the buying public—urban Americans—who, because of the slowness of order-by-mail, would otherwise never do business with Sears.
In 1933, Sears announced plans to replace the aging department store with a new building. Shortly after the end of the 1933 Christmas shopping season, the store was closed and wreckers went to work demolishing the landmark building. In its place, Sears built a striking new structure desinged in the art-deco style. Sleek, crome letters spelled out “SEARS” above the store’s 63rd and Halsted Street entrances. A part of the new building was occupied by a Hillman’s Pure Foods store.
The seven-story Englewood Sears store remained in business until January of 1976.