Before your favorite retail chain had locations all across America, they had to start somewhere. Some "birthing" stories are fairly well-known. For example, some of us may be familiar with how Wal-Mart got its start, almost fifty years ago, when Sam Walton opened the company's first discount store (Walton's Five and Dime) in Rogers, Ark. Five years later, there were already 24 Wal-Mart stores in Arkansas ringing up $12.6 million in sales.
But what about your other favorite retail chains? Where did it all begin for them? We visited the corporate Web sites of a dozen popular retailers to see where they got their start.
In 1962, the Dayton Company entered discount merchandising with the opening of its first Target store in Roseville, Minn. Decorated with a bull's-eye logo, it completely revolutionized the way people thought about discount stores. By the end of the decade, the company expanded into Colorado, Missouri and Texas, with 17 stores and sales over $100 million. By 1979, there were 80 stores. By 1989, 399 stores and today there are 1,743 stores in 49 states. In 2005, that very first store in Roseville was completely rebuilt as the prototype of all Target stores to come.
Originally called The Golden Rule, James Cash Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyo., in 1902. At the time, most merchants of the day tended to bargain with each customer to get whatever price they could for their wares. Mr. Penney succeeded by selling on a cash-only basis and selling at "one price" to all customers. After the Golden Rule grew into a chain of stores, the company incorporated in 1913 as the J. C. Penney Company, Inc., and all the stores were changed to JCPenney.
San Francisco, Calif.
In 1969, founders Doris and Don Fisher opened the first Gap store in San Francisco, Calif. By 1970 sales had reached $2 million and a second store in San Jose, Calif. was opened. Today, Gap Inc. operates approximately 3,100 stores worldwide under the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta brand names.
Toys 'R' Us
In 1948, 25-year-old Charles Lazarus turned his dream of creating a child-oriented business into a reality. Lazarus started a baby furniture store, Children's Bargain Town, in Wash., D.C. Although quite successful with baby furniture, his customers were constantly inquiring about children's toys, which he then added. Almost ten years later, Charles opened his second store (in Rockville, Md.) He settled on the name Toys 'R' Us with a backward "R."
The Home Depot
(Excerpt from corporate.homedepot.com)
The Home Depot was founded in 1978 by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, along with investment banker Ken Langone and merchandising guru Pat Farrah. They opened the first two Home Depot stores on June 22, 1979, in Atlanta, Georgia. The first stores, at around 60,000 square feet each, were cavernous warehouses that dwarfed the competition and stocked 25,000 SKUs, much more than the average hardware store at that time. Empty boxes piled high on the shelves gave the illusion of even more product.
(Parts excerpted from Nordstrom.com's official company history)
In 1887, John W. Nordstrom, at 16 years of age, left Sweden for the United States. He arrived in New York with $5 in his pocket, unable to speak a word of English. In 1901, Carl F. Wallin, a Seattle shoemaker Nordstrom had met in Alaska, offered him a partnership in a shoe store. They opened their first store, Wallin & Nordstrom, on Fourth and Pike street in Seattle. The business grew and in 1923 the partners added a second store in Seattle's University District. Today, Nordstrom operates a total of 196 stores located in 28 states.
(Excerpt from RiteAid.com)
Rite Aid's first store opened in September 1962 as Thrif D Discount Center in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From the start, the company grew rapidly through acquisitions and the opening of new stores, expanding to five northeastern states by 1965. It was officially named Rite Aid Corporation in 1968, the same year it made its first public offering and started trading on the American Stock Exchange. In 1970, Rite Aid moved to the New York Stock Exchange. Today, it operates nearly 4,800 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. was officially formed in 1893. The company dates its history back to 1886 when Richard W. Sears, a railroad agent in Minnesota, received a box of errant watches and then sold them to other agents. In 1888, he began selling watches and jewelry via catalogs. Early in 1925, Sears experimented with one store located in the Chicago mail-order plant. It was an immediate success. Before the year was out he opened seven more retail stores. By the end of 1927 he had 27 stores. (Left: Sears store opening on State Street in Chicago, Ill.)
In 1986, Staples launched the office products superstore industry with the opening of its first store in Brighton, Mass. In 1996, it becomes a Fortune 500 company and its 500th store opened in Vero Beach, Fla. In 2007, it opened its 2000th Staples store, located in India.
7-Eleven pioneered the convenience store concept way back in 1927 at the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas. In addition to selling blocks of ice, an enterprising ice dock employee began offering milk, bread and eggs on Sundays and evenings when grocery stores were closed. The company's first stores were known as Tote'm stores since customers "toted" away their purchases. In 1946, Tote'm became 7-Eleven to reflect the stores' new, extended hours -- 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., seven days a week.
Family Dollar Stores
In November 1959, Leon Levine opened the first Family Dollar store in Charlotte, N.C. By 1967, he had 27 stores operating in four states with annual sales of more than $5 million. In 2004, sales exceeded $5 billion. Today, Family Dollar operates over 6,700 stores in 44 states.
Bed Bath and Beyond
Springfield, N.J. (Not pictured)
The driving force behind Bed Bath & Beyond was the partnership between co-founders Leonard Feinstein and Warren Eisenberg who formed Bed 'n Bath in 1971. (The Woodland Hills, Calif. store is shown at left, in a picture taken in 1980.) The company was incorporated in New York and began using the name Bed Bath & Beyond in 1987. Today, they have over 1,000 stores.
Where it all began: chain retailers' first locations