Salute to Knoxville’s original ‘big box’

Vickie Butcher WellsInside 640, Our Town Stories

Sears! That old building was then so new and modern for its day.

We would take advantage of the free shuttle bus that loaded on Gay Street in front of Miller’s and would take downtown customers to the Central Ave. store … and then back downtown when we were finished at Sears … or the other way around. That was the best deal, because you could park at Sears for free, go downtown to shop, and then ride the bus back! And it was a white bus, so it was easy to spot!

When Sears opened, downtown stores felt the pinch … all of a sudden, the paid parking didn’t seem like such a good deal … forerunner to the shopping center concept!

Sears was “one stop shopping” for everything except groceries … and for that you could walk to a Cas Walker’s down the street or check out the Merita Bread bakery and its, oh-so- wonderful, day-old discount goodies!

And speaking of goodies … I can close my eyes and smell the candy counter right as you stepped into the building! Fifty cents would get you a little white bag of hot Spanish peanuts or chocolate covered raisins! Behind the counter was a stainless-steel scale that the candy/nuts would be scooped into … weighed … then the side flaps would fold up and the candy/nuts would slide right into the bag … the smell wafted throughout the store … marketing genius!

Easter always meant baskets filled with special expensive candy and a stuffed rabbit wrapped in brightly colored cellophane and tied with wide satin ribbon. I always wanted one of those, but we lived in the country and country Easter bunnies were pretty basic! We would usually park closer to the garden center entrance … plants, garden tools, seeds, lawn mowers … and at Christmas … Santa!

The garden center was actually built like a greenhouse and was always warm … but three little steps up put you in the part of the building that housed the new appliances … freezers, refrigerators, ovens, washing machines … all Kenmore, of course!

And the salesmen, as I remember, were pretty aggressive as you walked through to the main building! My mom was pretty good at saying “no” to the latest new washing machine!

The main floor … in addition to the candy/nut counter … held the shoe department, purses, women’s and men’s clothing … downstairs were household items, the restrooms, toys, tools … the top third floor had a photography studio, children’s clothing and a beauty salon … I remember that the dresses at Easter were so beautiful, in my eyes … my dresses were pretty much always homemade … but I coveted those silky pastel dresses with the starched crinkling crinolines underneath … ahhhh … memories!

Sears was always part of our shopping routine … such happy carefree times … wish I had a bag of those hot Spanish peanuts right now!

(Editor’s Note: Sears on N. Central opened April 26, 1948. Multi-storied with marble floors and stairs, it surely was built to endure. We asked retired teacher Vickie Wells to recollect memories of shopping at the then-new Sears super store. Enjoy!)

Sears on N. Central changed Knoxville’s shopping habits.


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