10 Department Stores We Wish We Could Shop at One More Time

Take a shopping trip down memory lane.

Costumers shopping, buying clothes and merchandise at checkout counter
Updated July 18, 2024
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In the current landscape of e-commerce and fast fashion, brands struggle to ignite the same loyalty mall stores had back in the 80s and 90s. 

The COVID-19 pandemic drove home the fact that department stores are a dying breed. People nowadays prefer to save money on essentials and splurges alike by shopping online.

Here’s a list of stores we wish we could shop at one more time, and that have us feeling nostalgic.

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Mervyn’s

DragonImages/Adobe woman shopping at leather bags shop

Mervyn’s location opened in 1949. The casual retailer carried not only clothing for the whole family in one store but also houseware and jewelry. Loyal customers showed up even before the stores opened to take advantage of amazing sales and clearance prices.

Redditors get nostalgic about the store's low prices and quality merchandise — one user even bought bath towels 20 years ago that still look new.

Lord and Taylor

Kittiphan/Adobe woman walking in clothes store

The retailer, which started in 1826, was known for its patriotism and regularly highlighted American designers. It was known as the go-to for dresses for all occasions. Lord and Taylor found success in suburban areas, especially with promotional pricing strategies.

The store found its niche, being more affordable than luxury shops like Saks but more elevated than a discount retailer.

The Bon-Ton

Andris Piebalgs/Adobe people at shopping mall

Founded in 1898, The Bon-Ton department store started in Pennsylvania and quickly became a gathering place for kids and teens — before mall rats were a thing. The store carried affordable clothing for the entire family. The flagship store in York, Pennsylvania, also had a Tea Room where many people stopped to enjoy a bite to eat while shopping.

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Bendel’s

zhu difeng/Adobe interior of modern shopping mall

Started by Henry Bendel in 1895, Bendel’s department store became a household name for luxury fashions. Bendel’s wasn’t just a store; it was a cultural icon. The store was known for its brown and white striped hat boxes and has been referenced on TV shows like Gossip Girl and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The store was the first of its kind to offer makeovers, fashion shows and celebrity sightings.

Dressbarn

JHVEPhoto/Adobe DressBarn store in Buffalo

Dress opened in 1962, catering specifically to women returning to the workforce. It stocked dresses for all occasions in a wide size range — something customers loved about them.

Dressbarn wasn’t glamorous like other department stores, but it was affordable and accessible. Former customers reminisce about finding gems after digging through racks of clothing. Whether for a speaking gig or rehearsal dinner, Dressbarn always seemed to have what they needed.

F. W. Woolworth Company

EKH-Pictures/Adobe Woolworth GmbH Germany and Austria

Fondly known as Woolworths, the chain started out as five-and-dime stores in the late 1800s. Eventually, the business model morphed into a department store, including lunch counters and shoe departments.

Adults now have fond memories of buying sweet treats at the “Pick n’ Mix” counter with their parents or grandparents.

Marshall Field’s

JHVEPhoto/Adobe Marshall Field's building Chicago illinois

Marshall Field’s was an upscale department store founded in the 19th century. Most customers remember the flagship store in Chicago fondly. With its magnificent ceilings and window displays, it brought luxury to the everyman. Visiting The Walnut Room, the store’s restaurant, was a tradition for many families, especially during the holidays.

You can still visit the iconic building, including The Walnut Room restaurant, but it’s now owned and operated as a Macy’s department store.

Gimbels

imtmphoto/Adobe woman with shopping bags at mall

Gimbel Brothers, also known as Gimbels, was a department store that catered to middle-class America. The store focused on quality products rather than flashy aesthetics. Gimbels prioritized cutting-edge technology in its product offering by carrying the most up-to-date appliances and merchandise. One Redditor remembered playing the newest video games in the TV department for hours on end.

Montgomery Ward & Company

bborriss/Adobe clothing store displaying woman's fashion

Mongomery Ward started out in the late 1800s as a mail-order catalog business. Eventually, in 1926, it opened its first brick-and-mortar shop. Kids who grew up in small towns remember the Montgomery Ward catalogs being a lifeline. Without mail-order options, they were severely limited on fashion and toy options for school, birthdays, or holidays.

Montgomery Ward closed the catalog division in 1985, but many still have fond memories of tagging pages of all the items they wanted to buy.

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Meier & Frank

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe woman choosing mini dress at mall

Meier & Frank was started in Portland, Oregon, back in 1857. They were pioneers in creating a memorable shopping experience, including Christmas events, a monorail you could ride inside the store, surprise sales, and more. It was a place where families went together.

One Redditor shared, ”Every summer when I visited my grandparents, they would take me and my sisters to Meier & Frank to pick out a new Sunday dress. I looked forward to it every year.”

Bottom Line

belart84/Adobe Shopping mall on Bali island

Consumers have spoken, and the result is that they prefer saving money at Target and similar stores or hopping online on platforms like Amazon to all-day shopping trips and department stores. 

Brands that have continued to flourish have learned to adapt to evolving consumer trends and buying patterns. Even though there are forums filled with people reminiscing about department stores of the past, many of them admit to shopping with online retailers instead.

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Author Details

Holly Humbert

Holly is a writer who recognizes that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance. She is passionate about entrepreneurship, women in business, and financial literacy. With more than four years of experience, her work has been featured on MarketWatch and The Ways to Wealth.