Then and Now: Crawford County’s Department Stores

By Crawford County October 15, 2017

Despite competition with online shopping options, today’s shoppers are still heavily reliant on brick and mortar department stores. Historically, department stores have provided customers with irreplaceable shopping comforts: seeing the apparel, home furniture, or cosmetics firsthand, choosing sizing and color options in store, and customer service throughout the shopping experience.

Today’s department store has evolved (for better or worse) to accommodate the modern shopper; one who expects frequent sales and a base of popular brands. However, we’re celebrating National Department Store Day by throwing it back to two of Crawford County’s most successful department stores: Montgomery Ward and Woolworths. The two stores were staple businesses in downtown Pittsburg in the mid-1900s and saw many customers through their doors over decades in business.

The historic Montgomery Ward traces its roots back to 1872, when traveling dry goods salesman Aaron Montgomery Ward started selling to farmers by mail through a one-page catalog list. Ward’s catalog was the first of its kind, outdating Sears (founded 14 years later, but whose catalog would arrive later still). Ward also helped introduce a concept we take for granted in today’s consumer market: ”satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.”

Ballooning out of Ward’s catalog business, the company went public in 1919 and began to open stores throughout the next decade. The Pittsburg location, on the West side of Broadway between 5th and 6th Streets, was one of over 500 department stores open by the 1930s. The store sold everything from apparel and furniture to toys and records. A Little Wonder record of “He’s a Rag Picker” would cost up to 20 cents and a Tippy Toe Bubble Book would put one out 98 cents in 1922. Pittsburg’s Montgomery Ward existed into the latter half of the 1900s, still showing its pride in this 1959 photograph.

Accompanying Montgomery Ward in downtown Pittsburg was Woolworth’s, which sat at 505 North Broadway. Eventually diversifying from its five-and-dime store concept, F.W. Woolworth’s original shops from the 1880’s were some of the first to allow customers to handle and select merchandise without the assistance of a sales clerk. Seeing a need to add merchandise in order to grow, the company introduced a line of 20 cent products in 1932, removed all price limits in 1935, and had evolved into the day’s typical department store by the 1960s. The Pittsburg location held strong until the 1980s when the company began closing stores in response to lower sales and a refocus on sporting goods.

Today, department stores in Crawford County remain popular destinations for shoppers. JCPenney and Goody’s inside Pittsburg’s Meadowbrook Mall carry apparel, shoes, and home goods for shoppers to browse for hours. On Department Store Day, of all days, get out and go shopping for your next favorite outfit!

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