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Vintage photos show the stores of San Antonio’s past

Sears has left the Alamo City. Here are other retailers that've departed for good

A Sears-Roebuck Store in the Smith-Young Tower in downtown San Antonio. This image was taken between 1930-1935. The St. Mary's Street bridge is in the foreground. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection
A Sears-Roebuck Store in the Smith-Young Tower in downtown San Antonio. This image was taken between 1930-1935. The St. Mary's Street bridge is in the foreground. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection (Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection)

SAN ANTONIO – Fashion trends come and go, but “going out of business” signs have never gone out of style in San Antonio.

The city’s retail scene has remained an evolving door of big-name retailers and family businesses weaving in and out of the local economy, malls and downtown storefronts, ready to deliver the latest crazes to fashionistas — you know, before clothes could be purchased with a click of a mouse.

The latest victim in San Antonio? Sears, a slice of Americana that recently packed up its last store.

The last remaining Sears in the Alamo City departed Rolling Oaks Mall this month, as first reported by the San Antonio Express-News, leaving behind a 92-year history here.

It had previously closed up shop at South Park, Park North and Ingram before its grand departure.

But the truth is, it won’t be the last retailer to leave San Antonio for good.

Pier 1 is aiming to have all its stores in the U.S. permanently shuttered by October, including three in San Antonio, one in Selma and one in New Braunfels.

Pier 1 is officially going out of business

It’s one of several brands that had to file for bankruptcy this year due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on top of the years of decline due to the so-called retail apocalypse.

More than 40 retailers have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, the Associated Press has reported. Last year in total, that number stood at 23 retailers.

Among them: Stein Mart; Lord & Taylor; J. Crew; J.C. Penney; Neiman Marcus; Men’s Wearhouse; Jos. A. Bank; Stage Stores; and Ascena Retail Group, which owns Lane Bryant and Ann Taylor, the AP reported.

While it’s early to see how these bankruptcies will affect each brand’s presence in San Antonio, here’s a list of big-name retailers that are no longer here.

  • Albertson’s
  • Alfred Angelo
  • A’Gaci
  • Blockbuster
  • Builders Square
  • FedMart
  • Foley’s
  • Frost Bros.
  • Handy Andy
  • Hollywood Video
  • Joske’s
  • Kmart
  • Mervyn’s
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Payless
  • Radio Shack
  • Toys”R”Us
  • The Vogue
  • Wolff and Marx
  • Woolco

Surely more department stores or other retailers have left the San Antonio area. If you’d like to share more, let us know in the comments below.

These are photographs of the store’s of San Antonio’s past, and one image of the humble beginnings of Wonderland Mall, which later became Wonderland of the Americas.

An aerial view looking west toward Wonderland Mall in San Antonio, with Loop 410 on the upper right. This image is dated May 21, 1962. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection
An aerial view looking west toward Wonderland Mall in San Antonio, with Loop 410 on the upper right. This image is dated May 21, 1962. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection (UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Express-News collection)

Joske’s Department Store was founded in 1869 by Julius Joske, according to the City of San Antonio. He opened the J. Joske Dry Goods on Main Plaza, but by the late 1880s the business became Joske Brothers and it moved to the corner of East Commerce Street and Alamo Plaza.

“By the turn of the century, Joske’s had become the largest store southwest of the Mississippi River, having a large variety of merchandise and an increasingly affluent clientele of San Antonio residents and visiting tourists,” the city’s website states.

The building underwent a series of expansions, with the last major change coinciding with HemisFair ’68.

While it was a fixture of downtown, Joske’s was sold to Dillard’s in 1987. Dillard’s occupied the building until 2008, and the building was later renovated for the Shops at Rivercenter. The inside of the building was completely gutted, and it now includes H&M, Dave & Buster’s, and other shops.

An image of the Plaza Theater and Joske's Department store in downtown San Antonio, circa 1932. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News
An image of the Plaza Theater and Joske's Department store in downtown San Antonio, circa 1932. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News (Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News)
The exterior of Joske Brothers Store on Alamo Street in San Antonio, circa 1892. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections
The exterior of Joske Brothers Store on Alamo Street in San Antonio, circa 1892. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections (Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)

The Vogue, a women’s clothing store, stood at 301 E. Houston St.

The building is still called the Vogue Building and holds Codeup and La Panaderia.

The Vogue, a women's clothing store at 301 E. Houston Street, circa 1935-1937. Image:  Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections
The Vogue, a women's clothing store at 301 E. Houston Street, circa 1935-1937. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections (Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)

Wolff and Marx was a major competitor to Joske’s, according to a “Joske’s Brothers Store: The First Fifty Years” journal posted by the University of the Incarnate Word.

In this image from the 1920s, Wolff and Marx was located in the Rand Building, where Rosella now sits.

Joske’s purchased the brand in 1965 and sold it in 1968, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Wolff and Marx on the ground floor of the Rand Building, circa 1920-1929. Image:  Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News
Wolff and Marx on the ground floor of the Rand Building, circa 1920-1929. Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News (Image: Courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections/San Antonio Express-News)

Brothers Jonas and William Frost opened Frost’s, which later became the Frost Bros. department store, in 1917, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

A North Star Mall location closed in 1989 but the downtown store had closed two years prior, the newspaper states.

This 1938 image shows the beauty salon at Frost Bros. Dept. Store in San Antonio. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Light collection
This 1938 image shows the beauty salon at Frost Bros. Dept. Store in San Antonio. Image: UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Light collection (UTSA Special Collections, San Antonio Light collection)

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