As soon as the news of the fall of the iconic chain store formerly known as Sears, Roebuck & Co. was announced, nearly every columnist in the nation — maybe the world, I don’t read Chinese — had taken on the topic.
Many of these writers are, wittingly or unwittingly, writing the local history of their towns. As am I.
The Santa Rosa store, now the south-end anchor of the Santa Rosa Plaza, we are told, will be out of business by year’s end. It seems an appropriate time to remember what Santa Rosa, specifically B Street downtown, was like BTM (Before the Mall).
Come on along then on a 1950s walk on the west side of B, starting across from the Hoag House and heading north. Just on our side of the street we’re going to pass businesses with names familiar in old Santa Rosa — the Mark Haines welding shop, Nelligan’s feed store, Al’s Place, one of the 30 or more taverns, saloons, bars, call them what you will, between E Street and the Northwestern Pacific tracks.
On the north side of Fourth Street is the Occidental Hotel, which takes up the whole block with doors to the lobby in the center. At the corner is the entrance to Keegan’s Brothers men’s store where the Sullivan brothers (go figure…) were the last word in haberdashery. Ruth’s Beauty Shop, the Ladies Arcade dress shop and the Alice Marie hat shop lined the hotel block.
We cross Fifth Street to The Roxy theater, which was once a vaudeville house with rocking seats in the balcony. Every theater has a candy store next door and the Roxy’s is Chauncey Wolcott’s. We buy Black Jack chewing gum and walk on up B Street as the big, noisy Greyhound buses make their way into the depot on the corner.
Now we’re passing a store called Family Liquors, without a trace of irony, and Lafferty & Smith Mortuary. Across the street, the First Baptist Church, built from just one redwood tree milled in Guerneville, is famous thanks to Santa Rosa’s own Robert Ripley’s Believe or Not. His mother was a member.
Now we pass Bishop Motors. Bob Bishop’s Ford agency stretches all the way back to A Street in mid-block with another sprawl from Fifth to Seventh. Bishop, who is on the State Highways Commission, is a political force.
And here’s the California Theater, where the Townsends sold candy in the tiny store next door before they moved to the new Town & Country development at the end of McDonald Avenue.
We stop to study the architecture of the impressive Victorian Scottish Rite Temple, where if you know a Shriner you might get to see the Kurlander Collection of old Santa Rosa artifacts in the attic, well-dusted with equal amounts of bug powder and dead bugs.
That’s where they keep the nooses used to lynch the three guys who killed the sheriff in 1920. These grim artifacts are considered treasures and the object of considerable curiosity. Time to get out of here and go next door.
Which brings us directly the topic of the week: Sears, Roebuck & Co. It’s the “new store” at the corner of B and Seventh, having been welcomed to town in 1948.