For this list I have tried to find the most well-knowncross country brands of the past, and not so much of the regional chains. If I did, I tried to go for those that had national name recognition.
1. ALCO/Duckwall’s: Duckwall’s started in 1901 as a chain and ‘five and dime’ stores owned by its namesake Alva Lease Duckwall. As the concept of bigger discount store took America by storm in the 1960’s, Duckwall created the ALCO brand in 1968 (AL taken from Duckwall’s first and middle names and CO meaning company). The company grew to 127 ALCO stores and 33 Duckwall stores in 1985. They were able to survive bankruptcy in the late 1980’s, and switched to a business strategy of opening up ALCO/Duckwall stores in rural communities in which the major players in discount retailing (like Walmart and Target) have not really taken in interest in or just not yet. The strategy worked for at least two decades, but increased competition caught up to ALCO. They discontinued the Duckwall branding and variety storesin 2010, but it was not enough. In 2014, ALCO had to deal with bankruptcy protection once again, and this this time they were not going to make it. In 2015 the last ALCO store was closed down.
2. Woolworth/Woolco: The very first ‘five and dime’ store chain which came into existence in the late 19th Century. Woolworth also tried their hand at discount stores starting in 1962 with Woolco. However,Woolco closed down in America in 1983. It would have in longer run in Canada until Woolco was sold to Walmart in the mid 1990’s. Woolworth’s run as a variety store ended in 1997. The American Woolworth company did think ahead and is more successful with its chain of sportswear and footwear known as Foot Locker.
3. Circuit City: Founded by Samuel Wurtzel and Abraham L. Hecht as the Wards Company. These partners saw the dawn of television and built a business selling TV’s and home appliances. It changed its name to Circuit City in 1984. Market conditions went against the chain’s favor and the original Circuit City closed in 2009. They have been several attempts to revive the brand, but yet to be successful.
4. TG&Y: Rawdon E. Tomlinson, Enoch L. “Les” Gosselin, and Raymond A. Young were the founders of this ‘five and dime’ chain that was based in Oklahoma City in 1935. At the chain’s peak TG&Y had over 1,000 stores in 29 states. In the year 2001 TG&Y came to an end.
5. Sam Goody/Musicland and its subsidiaries: Sam “Goody” Gutowitz began his name sake record shop in 1951. Grover Cleveland Sayre II founded rival chain Musicland in 1955. In the late 1970’s they joined forces and ran stores under both names. They also ran the Suncoast Motion Picture Company (which is still in business) and Media Play superstores. Transworld bought out Sam Goody/Musicland in 2007, and were folded in the their FYE chain of stores.
6. HomeBase: This home improvement warehouse chain opened in 1983 as a membership club retail outlet as HomeClub. In 1991 it discontinued the membership program and was renamed HomeBase. It would become the sixth largest home improvement chain but it could not compete with The Home Depot or Lowe’s which was able to adapt to Depot’s business strategy. HomeBase tried to focus on home decorations as Home2Home, but the business could not grow and the company shut down for good in 2002.
7. Sports Authority: The chain started in 1987 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Along the way the chain acquired heritage regional chains Gart Sports out of Denver, Colorado (and would move its corporate headquarters their),Sportmart out of Niles, Illinois, and Oshman’s out of Houston, Texas. The chain however would file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and rival Dick’s Sporting Goods acquired the interests of this chain.
8. Blockbuster: With the VCR playback devices popular in the home, their needed to be a chain that focused on movie rentals. Blockbuster video filled that need. They tried their hand at music retailing when they acquired a few regional record shops. They sold those respected stores in 1998. However,Netflex came on the scene and offered their snail mail service of video rentals, and while Blockbuster tried to adapt, Netflex was able to use internet tech and Blockbuster at least as a company owned store came to an end in 2014.
9. Borders: The book chain started in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company would eventually acquire the much older Waldenbooks. But Borders could not compete with the online stores like Amazon and Borders would shutter in 2011.
10. KB Toys (aka Kay Bee Toys): K and B actually stood for Kaufman Brothers. So, there was no woman named Kay Bee. Before they sold toys, they actually sold candy. KB Toys goes back to the year 1922. Its business would be in all 50 states but by 2009, their near century run came to an end.
11. The Wiz: This chain may have been limited to just the North East and a few stores in the Great White North, but thanks to the hit sitcom Seinfeld, this chain of electronic stores would get mass appeal fame. It is also referenced in the rap tune “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock. But that would not be enough to keep The Wiz afloat. Its brick and mortar stores closed in 2004.
12. Osco Drug and Sav-on Drugs: This chain of drugs was founded by the Skaggs family and they were known originally as Skaggs Drug Stores. Eventually the name sound too western and Osco and Sav-On would be become the biggest branding names for the chain. In 2006 the chain was sold off to CVS Pharmacy.
13. Camelot Music: They were a record store that started in 1956. While they were profitable and were among the largest record shops and winds of change would affect their business and like Sam Goody/Musicland they folded into Trans World Entertainment.
14. Montgomery Ward: One of America’s earliest department stores or as they were called back in the day; Dry Goods. Wards believe it or not was the chain the first introduced us to Santa’s most famous reindeer, and they published a story about Rudolph and his glowing red nose written by Robert L. May. This famous department store started in 1872 and had a great run that would last until June 2001. The brand however is trying to be kept alive as an online retailer.
15. Mervyn’s: This middle scale department store started up in 1949. For a long time, it was one of the Dayton-Hudson owned stores which owned Mervyn’s from 1978 up until 2004. Mervyn’s would close down in 2008.
16. Marshall Field’s, Dayton’s, and Hudson’s: These were the upper scale stores of the Dayton-Hudson company. What would become the most profitable store chain in the company would be Target Stores and that store would become the focus of the company and the corporation would be branded as Target Corporation while these other stores would be sold off to Macy’s.
17. Silo: This was a chain of electronic stores that got its start in Philadelphia, PA in the year 1946. Silo would stay in business until 1995.
18. Warner Bros. Studio Store: I loved this story a whole lot better than Disney. But Warner Bros let this one go and made it online. 1991-2001. Ten years was not so bad.
19. Service Merchandise: One of the biggest catalog showroom chains of the later 20th Century. It began as a five and dime in 1934, and would evolve into a catalog showroom retail business. But it could not compete with the superstores and discounters, even if SM were among the first retail outlets to use the emerging world wide web. Service Merchandise would come to an end in 2002.
20. A&P: Even grocers can close down in spite of the need for them. We got to eat. A&P might have been Walmart before Walmart, but even the competition can catch up with you and if you can’t recover; your history. From 1859 through 2015 A&P was still an icon in the Grocery store business.