When Sears came to Baltimore

In 1937, neighbors protested the construction of a new Sears, Roebuck & Co. store on Harford Road and North Avenue, fearing it would bring traffic jams and lower property values to what was then a residential stretch of Northeast Baltimore.

The store opened over residents’ objections the following year. And most people eventually came around to what a Sun article called “a completely new concept in retailing techniques.”

At the time, starting a retail store away from a downtown area — complete with a place to park — was a novel idea, and the Sears store helped begin the trend.

The grand, three-story display window was the largest in the world, according to The Sun. The shop’s “community room” provided concert space to local musicians. In later years, automotive and garden sections were added to the property.

While the store survived white flight and the riots of 1968, it eventually closed in 1981, becoming the last Sears to leave the city — though several more were opened in Baltimore County. Baltimore city councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who had shopped there with her children, attributed the departure to “disinvestment in the city, pure and simple.” The company left, she said, and “there was nothing we could do for Sears to keep them.”

Years later, the building took on a new identity: as Eastside District Court for Baltimore City. Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez opined that, although the building might be a courthouse, “folks will probably call it Sears forever.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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