Thursday, January 18, 2018

Town & Country Discount Store

Something that has been very curious to me is the discovery of a defunct discount chain that apparently everyone forgot about: Town & Country.  In 1961, they were purchased by Lane Bryant, which quickly expanded the chain.  Prior to the purchase they were a Harrisburg-based operation with six small discount stores and a catalog service.  As they grew, they were mostly located in Pennsylvania, but they expanded to three locations were in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in West Virginia.  Quite a few of the former locations still exist today, most repurposed in some form or another since they were generally smaller stores of around 30,000 square feet that were relatively easy to redevelop.  In all, it looks like the chain had at least 21 locations at its peak, and it catered to small and medium sized markets.


1969 photo of the Town & Country store located in Winchester, VA (Photo by Tim Legg)

It is not entirely clear how Town & Country was marketed, but judging by the ads they were a store that focused a bit more on hard lines than soft lines (although its parent company was a clothing store), and it sold a little of everything sort of like Kmart did at the time.  Its catchphrase was that it offered a "Golden Guarantee".  While the stores carried a wide variety of merchandise, they did not appear to offer any services such as a pharmacy, auto center, garden center, restaurant, optical, etc.  This explains how they could offer a wide variety of merchandise in only a 30,000 square feet store.  Perhaps this lack of services was a factor that led to their demise since it was not an all-in-one shopping experience.  It made it difficult to make them stand out against competitors like Woolworth/Woolco, Murphy's Mart, and Newberry's.  It seemed that Kmart's expansion into its territory was what led to its seemingly planned demise.  No mention was ever made that the store chain was actually unprofitable as a reason for its closure.  Most likely it was a corporate decision to focus on their core business: Lane Bryant.


Town & Country grand opening flyer at North Hanover Plaza in Hanover, PA in 1965.  It was the 12th in the chain.  Image from "The Evening Sun" from September 15, 1965.


Clearly the logo didn't match the exterior in the first iteration of the store.  It would be replaced with an awesome looking logo by the 1970's.  Image from The Evening Sun from September 15, 1965.


October 12, 1966 ad from The Evening Sun.


1970 saw the enclosure of North Hanover Plaza into North Hanover Mall.  The portion with Town & Country was fronted by an enclosed strip that ended at the former store.  Kmart looks to have greatly expanded the store in later years.  Image from April 1, 1970.


The 1971 reopening introduced us to that AMAZING "turbo" logo that was in use in the first part of the decade.  Note the update to the entrance to accommodate the enclosure of the strip in front of the store.  Image from The Evening Sun from June 29, 1971.


The interior of the updated Town & Country at North Hanover Mall.  It looks small and cluttered by today's standards, but this was apparently spacious for the time.  Image from The Evening Sun from June 29, 1971.

The store chain used three different logos, and the second generation logo was memorable...a mid-century turbo-style font.  Many of their stores featured a distinctive "hooded" canopy feature over the front entrance with sloping sides and a glass front that was quite similar to classic Mobil stations built during the same period.  Not much else is known about them except that they went out of business in 1977, and Kmart took over many locations as an attempt to expand into the Mid-Atlantic region.  Kmart locations that opened in these stores operated into the 1990's.  That means that most likely Kmart was willing to finish the leases on these stores considering that they likely operated on a 30 year lease with most locations open only around 10-15 years as Town & Country.


One more flyer from the grand reopening.  Image from The Evening Sun from June 29, 1971.


Constant logo changes could not have helped the bottom line of Town & Country.  This is the third and final version as shown in this ad from The Evening Standard from June 29, 1974.


Norman Rockwell dads are waiting to be showered with gifts on Fathers Day.  They also want you to make sure you shop the specials at Town & Country!  Image from The Evening Standard from June 29, 1974.


Maybe the Blues Brothers should have crashed into Town & Country instead of Dixie Square Mall, because "This place has everything!".  Image from The Evening Standard from June 29, 1974.


The New York influence comes out in this ad.  It was pretty clear that "Every day's a sale day at May's" was playing through their head when they came up with that slogan.  It's also a bit ironic to see bone thin cartoon women with no butts in a clothing ad from a store whose parent company is Lane Bryant.  Image from The Evening Standard from June 29, 1974.

Kmart has since closed or replaced every store that originally opened as Town & Country, all much smaller than the typical Kmart.  Along with J.M. Fields and others, it was one of the early casualties of the highly competitive discount store market that today is down to primarily just Wal-Mart and Target with no regional discount stores left in the Mid-Atlantic states.  Stores like Ames, Hill's, Murphy's, Jamesway, Clover, and others were all later casualties, but they lasted much longer than Town & Country and had a more significant footprint.


Part of why I wrote a post on this store is that I kept bumping into these stores.  When I saw this former store in Harrisonburg, VA, I was DYING to know what store it used to be.  Needless to say, finding out it was an obscure discount chain nobody had ever heard of was pretty exciting.  Look closely and you can see the angled canopy, which has been largely covered up on the front with this detestable stucco update.


The unceremonious end of Town & Country usually ended up like this one: a single store subdivided into two or more stores.  Of course, this Big Lots has obviously been here awhile as it still sports the older logo.


Interior detail, including angled canopy, at the Big Lots (former Town & Country/Kmart) in Winchester, VA.

A complete list of former Town & Country locations (as of 1974) is below along with the present tenant (if the building still exists).  The known locations to have existed include the following:
  1. Altoona, PA (3100 Pleasant Valley Blvd.)
    • Now a Nissan dealership (Courtesy Motor Sales)
  2. Beckley Plaza Mall: Beckley, WV
    • Was later Kmart, currently Schewel's
    • Kmart relocated in a new store to left of existing shopping center in the 1990's
  3. Carlisle Plaza Mall: Carlisle, PA
    • Opened 1964, closed 1977
    • Was a mall anchor on the east end of the mall
    • Was replaced by Kmart, which itself closed in 1995 and relocated
    • Former location was demolished for Lowe's along with a portion of the mall
  4. Chambersburg, PA (1363 Lincoln Way East)
    • Subdivided between Napa Auto Parts & Essis & Sons Carpet One Floor & Home
  5. White Oaks Shopping Center: Cumberland, MD
    • Subdivided between Big Lots & Aaron Furniture Rental
    • Aaron's was formerly Rite-Aid
    • Larger Town & Country location
  6. Hagerstown, MD (562 Northern Ave)
    • Currently Gold's Gym
  7. North Hanover Mall: Hanover, PA
  8. Harrisburg, PA (100 E. Park Shopping Center/4200 Derry St)
    • Building gutted with only the roof and walls intact (unrecognizable) and in that state at least a decade
    • Was the site of a spectacular fire in the 1970's that destroyed the original building
  9. Cloverleaf Shopping Center: Harrisonburg, VA (131 S. Carlton St)
    • Subdivided into three tenants, including Big Lots and a Chinese restaurant
  10. Hazleton, PA (702 W. Broad Street)
    • Free-standing store
    • Was probably a Kmart location before Kmart opened in a former Ames at Laurel Mall in 1994
    • Was Ollie's Bargain Outlet, now vacant
  11. Latrobe Shopping Center (Latrobe 30 Plaza): Latrobe, PA
    • Subdivided between Dunham Sports & Planet Fitness
  12. Lemoyne, PA (1023 State Road)
    • Road name appars to have been changed to Gettysburg Road
    • Location unclear, but appears to be close to Capital City Mall
    • Most likely where Big Lots and Aldi have subdivided a store next to AMC Camp Hill 12
    • First location to close, closing in 1976
  13. Greater Lewistown Plaza: Lewistown, PA
    • Located either where Weis is currently or where Ollie's is currently (across the street from each other)
    • Weis may have been in current Ollie's and relocated into the former Town & Country
  14. Pottsville, PA (North Claude A. Lord Blvd/Rt. 61)
    • Appears to be where Giant is currently located
  15. Westerly Parkway Plaza: State College, PA (424 Westerly Pkwy)
    • Unclear of where it was located in the shopping center
    • May have been demolished
    • Weis may also be present location
  16. Staunton, VA (1106 Greenville Avenue)
    • Current location of Goodwill & Super Shoes
    • Appears to have been subdivided
  17. Sunbury, PA (Shamokin Dam)
    • Appears to be Orchard Hills Shopping Center
    • Currently Tractor Supply
  18. Uniontown Shopping Center: Uniontown, PA
    • Currently Tractor Supply Company
  19. West Chester, PA (1115 West Chester Pike)
    • Appears to be current location of Shop-Rite
  20. Williamsport, PA (3500 W. 4th St)
    • No longer retail
    • Now home to 3D Creative Services, a metal working shop
  21. Winchester, VA (1090 Millwood Pike)
    • Was previously as Kmart, currently Big Lots
    • Kmart appears to have relocated in 1994
    • Kmart's later location closed in 2014 and is today subdivided between Dick's Sporting Goods and The Fresh Market

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the information about this discount store chain. I had never heard of the Town & Country stores before. I did a little research and it seems that T&C was not founded by Lane Bryant, but rather purchased by Lane Bryant in 1961 when the chain had "six small discount stores and a mail order discount business." Source: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/141639873/

    I love looking at those old stores. The thing that jumped out at me in the first image from 1965 is that they were advertising Christmas items in early September. I guess the so-called "Christmas creep" was alive and well in the 1960s! I also liked the joke about the thin women with no butts in the ads. Of course, what constituted "plus sized" back then was probably thinner than what we think of today. T&C probably served a wider demographic though, but it's hard to say whether they were a little more upscale like a Venture or Target or more mainstream like a Kmart or Wal-Mart.

    Anyway, thanks again for the post. I'm glad to see that the blog is alive and well here in 2018!

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    1. Thanks for finding that! I edited the history per the information you found. I wondered if these were more like five-and-dime stores when the chain was purchased considering that the first discount stores were officially founded in 1962. If not, it may have been the first discount chain in the entire U.S.

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    2. My best guess is that the pre-Lane Bryant Town & Country stores were essentially five-and-dime type stores. You're probably right about that. If they were "small discount stores" by 1961 standards, they were probably pretty small. Maybe they were a short evolution away from the five-and-dime concept.

      While we typically think of 1962 as being the first year of discount stores (it was, after all, the first year for Kmart, Woolco, Target, and Wal-Mart), there were discounters who popped up slightly before 1962. Ayr-Way first opened in 1961, Caldor dates back to the 1950s, and Zayre had a 39,000 sq. ft. store by 1956. I can't really say for sure how similar that store was in concept to the later Zayre stores. There was Korvettes as well, but I'm not sure if I'd consider them to be a discount store the way we think of them today.

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  2. The Town & Country Store in the Greater Lewistown Shopping Plaza was located where JC Penney's currently is. Grants and then later Jamesway is where the Weis Store is now. The Weis store was where Ollie's is now.

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  3. I'm not entirely sure where the Harrisburg store was. What you're thinking of (the empty shell to the right of Petsmart) was a movie theater originally. I'm thinking T&C may have been where Home Depot is now (it was a Channel Home Center previously--which was demolished)

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  4. Very interesting. Glad you’re back with new posts.

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