10 Department Stores New Jerseyans Grew Up With in the 80’s, But Are Now Gone

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9 mins read

Shopping as a child in New Jersey created memories that for many, last as long as going to the beach, the boardwalk, or amusement park.   We all have very vivid memories of shopping with our parents, begging for the latest cabbage patch kid, a new Huffy or Schwinn bike, or even just a new Star Wars Return of the Jedi action figure.  Perhaps it wasn’t the stuff you got, but the experience and memories created through a day out with your parents.  Now, many of our favorite places we visited as kids are gone as shopping moves into the virtual realm.  Even the large box stores are going virtual.  Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and of course, Amazon are today’s leading online retailers, but our childhood favorites are all gone.

Bradlees

Bradlees Department stores opened in 1958 and grew to 105 stores in 7 states, many of those stores being in New Jersey.  Bradlees was one of the first large box department stores to feature a dining area that usually had soda, pretzels, hot dogs, ice cream, and other packaged snacks.  It was a great place for a kid to hang out while mom browsed through the clothing aisles for a new pair of Jordache or Wranglers.  Bradlees stores in New Jersey were closely tied to Stop and Shop supermarkets. Who can forget Mrs. B. telling us about the weekly specials on television each week? The company went out of business in March of 2001, but the decline of Bradlees had been going on for years prior.

 

Caldor

Another mid-twentieth-century department store, Caldor first opened its doors in 1951 in New York before going bankrupt 21 years ago in 1991.  The company closed all 145 stores by May of 1999.  Caldor revolutionized the computer inventory system which gave it a competitive advantage over its competitors.  Know for selling big-name items for discounted prices and huge seasonal sales floors, Caldor was the Black Friday destination for most early holiday shoppers.   Despite being a discount store, with a warehouse feel, Caldor survived by competing with the more upscale stores when it came to internal decor and shopping experience.

Channel Lumber/Rickels

Before Home Depot and Lowes, there was Channel Lumber Company and Rickel.  In 1994, the two home improvement giants combined to become Rickel stores. Founded in 1948, the chain boasted a huge selection of tools, lumber, and home and garden products.  At its height, the company had 60 stores with a handful here in New Jersey.  Eventually, Lowes and Home Depot arrived on the shores of New Jersey which helped bring about the demise of Channel and Rickel.   Channel and Rickel were more like Lowes than Home Depot with a department store feel to home improvement.  Many of their locations had a small arcade station near the checkout lanes with games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac Man, and other games of the time.

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Toys R Us

Toys R Us, branded as the world’s biggest toy store for nearly 5 generations suddenly went out of business in 2018 in the United States as market share moved online with cyber shopping and online holiday sales events by Amazon and other online retail giants.  The novelty of going to Toys R Us for many had worn off.  Shortly before closing some Toys R Us stores relaunched with interactive displays, video rooms, and more sensory and interactive experience, but it was too late.   There is a plan afoot to relaunch Toys R Us, but to date, it hasn’t materialized in most markets.   Today Toys R Us exists as an online retailer.  In 2019, the company emerged from bankruptcy and announced it will open pop-up stores called “Tru Kids” during the holiday shopping seasons, much like Halloween stores do now.

Two Guys

Founded in 1946, Two Guys made a huge splash in the 1970s and early ’80s in New Jersey.  It had grown to over 100 locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and beyond, but by 1982 was defunct.  The store’s flagship location in Harrison, New Jersey had multiple levels and escalators connecting each floor. Two Guys was the Target of its day featuring a huge electronics department, clothing, footwear, bedding, housewares, food, and automotive goods.  In some locations, Two Guys was a store within a store with one featuring an attached bowling alley, bar, and arcade.

 

Crazy Eddie

Crazy Eddie’s prices were insane, but fortune didn’t last long for founders and businessmen Eddie and Sam Antar.  Crazy Eddie’s prices weren’t insane, the stores were also a bit insane with bulk discount items sometimes just plopped in a box in the middle of the showroom floor.    Founded in 1971, it went defunct in 1989.  There were two attempts at reviving the brand in 2005 and 2012, but both failed.  The store was known more for its commercial that boasted “Crazy Eddie, his prices are insane!”  The character was played by DJ Dr. Jerry Carroll and not, as many thought at the time, Eddie or Sam Antar.

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The Wiz

Nobody Beats The Wiz opened in 1977 and shut down in 2004.    The store is more well known for the 1996 ALCS game where fan Jeffrey Maier caught a home run ball to help the Yankees defeat the Baltimore Orioles that was made right above the Nobody Beats the Wiz sign at the old Yankee Stadium.  The stores were owned by Cablevision and sold mostly electronics and electronic gadgets.

Circuit City

Founded in 1949, Circuit City grew to become one of the region’s most prominent appliance and electronics retailers.  Known by teens in the late ’80s and 1990s as the go-to place for a huge selection of video games, time eventually passed by Circuit City, and all locations were shut down in 2003.

 

FW Woolworth

The original “Five and Dime” stores, they were a page right out of classic Americana. Founded in 1879, Woolworth was once the retail leader across America.  Until its eventual closure in 1997, many old-time Woolworth stores still carried their original “five and dime” storefront signs, though no longer sold items for 5 and 10 cents. Today Woolworth lives on, but only in its “Foot Locker” branded stores.

 

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