September 5, 2018

Spotlight: Sears (Concept store) - Duluth, GA

Sears Gwinnett Place Mall Duluth, GA

Today we are taking an in-depth look at the Sears store located in the Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth, GA. $5 million dollars were spent to remodel this Sears into a special one of a kind concept store in late 2006. The grand reopening was held in late January 2007. It was open for its last day of business on September 2, 2018 and is now closed for good, another victim of the Sears Holdings downsizing.

Jan 2007 newspaper advertisement for the grand reopening of the store.

This store was originally built and opened in 1984 with the opening of the Gwinnett Place Mall, which was the first large regional mall in Gwinnett County. Between 1999 and 2001 the fate of the Gwinnett Place Mall looked a little less certain as two new super regional malls opened within a short distance of Gwinnett Place. Sears did not open an department store at those other two malls, thus the Gwinnett Place store was its only large mall location in Gwinnett County. Because of this, it was a very well performing store for the majority of its life at the mall. Since the store was a busy location it was chosen in 2006 to be the test store for a new store concept for Sears. This concept ended up being named the "Duluth" model after the city it's located in.

These barrels have been in storage for years. They were a big part of the concept remodel in 2007.

When Sears embarked on this store remodel into the "Duluth" concept, it had a vision for a store that was modern retro. There were several articles about this store after its remodel including one in the Chicago Tribune. Unfortunately a large amount of the things that made it a cool concept store were quickly abandoned or scaled back within a couple years of the remodel. By the time this store closed in 2018 the only remaining vestiges of the concept remodel included some of the signage and the updated flooring and paint. The little things that made it special were long gone. This concept was the first original format to be created under Eddie Lampert's leadership.

Taken in Jan 2007 after the grand reopening. Expanded electronics department on the left.

Now to get into what changes and updates made this concept store a special one. First of all, you will notice at both entrances is a retro Sears logo that was actually used by the company from 1923 to 1958, so it is a real throwback. Throughout the store this retro logo is used on fixtures, bags, signage, among other things. Oddly though the signs on the exterior of the store were not updated and still featured the 1994-2004 Sears logo. Beyond the logo, a whole host of other changes were in store as this location received a top to bottom remodel into this concept store. The store received all new flooring throughout including all different types of fit and finishes. Carpeting for most of the first floor's Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories departments and several different types and colors of tiling were put in on the second floor's hardline departments. New white wainscot department signs hanging from the ceiling help you find your way around. The entire store was repainted and blueprints for Sears old catalog ready to assemble houses were shown throughout the store on the walls for a retro vibe. The checkouts were all relocated to several central locations on each floor. Every exterior and mall entrance had a bank of checkout registers next to the entrance. There were no registers in departments or around the store other than specialty areas like jewelry and automotive. This store also ditched shopping carts but were subsequently added back in later years.

One of the register banks by a store entrance. There were five of these banks around the store entrances.

One big change that is immediately noticed especially on the second level is how open the store is. During the remodel, nearly all walls that were up separating departments were removed, making the store feel bigger and more open. It was to give the store a more of a retro, showroom feel. You can see all of the departments from across the store. This adjustment helped to add 13,00 square feet more of selling space. Another big change around the store is what was called "lifestyle vignettes." These were displays in every department that featured different items sold throughout the store in one setting. For example, the Chicago Tribune said one was "a mudroom near appliances that is stocked with a washer/dryer, towels, laundry basket, ironing board and detergent, all items shoppers can buy at Sears." These were highlighted further by completely different flooring under the displays and special pendant lighting hanging above. These displays only lasted a short time and were abandoned. You can see where they were located in a lot of the pictures by the different random squares of flooring around the store.

An example of one of the spots where a "lifestyle vignette" was at on the first floor.

Sears also took ideas from their other stores and concepts and put them into this store. One was they made a mini The Great Indoors area in the store called "Simply Indoors." For those of you that don't know The Great Indoors was a large store owned by Sears that sold upscale home products and displayed them in home settings. This "Simply Indoors" section did the same thing as it had home goods, dinnerware, and accessories in a visually appealing display setting. There's a blurry picture below we took in January 2007 of part of this area. Other sections exclusive to this store included a limited selection of cosmetics, a department Sears exited six years before this stores remodel. It also featured an expanded electronics department, with a large section of flat screen TV's, video games, and many other consumer electronics. It even featured a seating area in front of the TV wall for weary shoppers. The store includes the largest Land's End store within a store in the chain. It's located in the middle of the first floor and is highly visible from the mall entrance.

Taken in Jan 2007 after the grand reopening. The Great Indoors type home dept. with Internet kiosks in the background.

The store put a larger focus on customer service and a specialized shopping experience. It has an concierge desk called a solutions center and we'll explain all about that a little further down. There were more supervisors in the store and employees had more extensive product training. Special employees were also added like trained bra fitters in the intimates department. Blazers with the retro Sears logo were available for sales associates to wear. "We've managed to mix that nostalgia with high-tech presentation. That was a challenge to do. It's hard to mix the old and the new," said Michael Hall, the man who Sears hired from Kohl's to manage this test store. In 2007 Sears company spokesman Chris Brathwaite said elements of the "Duluth" concept remodel could find their way into other Sears stores and said "We're using this store as a laboratory rather than a prototype."

Taken in May 2017, the Lands End store within a store department.

Now onto one of the coolest new parts to this concept store, which was sadly very short lived. Located on the second level in the middle of the store close to the escalators was the Sears Solutions Center, Internet Cafe, and General Store. The Solutions center was like a concierge desk where you could do everything from ship packages, to get notified that your car is ready from the auto center downstairs, to have items gift wrapped in paper or put in gift bags that featured images of turn-of-the-20th-Century Sears Roebuck catalogs. The Solutions center also had an Internet Cafe that had coffee and sandwiches available for purchase. It featured nine Internet kiosks you could sit at and had wireless internet access for shoppers with their own laptops. Adjacent to the Solutions Center and Internet Cafe was the General Store. This was a special section to go with the retro-ness of this concept store. It had white pantry shelves, retro Coca Cola shirts, toy tractors, wooden display barrels filled with Craftsman tools, and large glass jars filled with individually wrapped bubble gum, lollipops, and other candy you could buy.

Taken in Jan 2007 after the stores grand reopening. Candy by the piece could be bought from those jars.

Unfortunately like the rest of Sears Holdings, the success of this one of a kind concept store came crashing down and it is now closed forever. Luckily we were able to obtain a couple souvenirs of this unique Sears during its closing sale. We purchased one of the retro logo wooden barrels as featured in the photo above. These were exclusive to this Sears store and the only ones in existence. A picture of one of the barrels from this store was even featured atop an article about Sears in 2007 from the New York Times. We also obtained a case of 100 Sears gift boxes more than likely left over from years ago that have a sticker of the retro Sears logo on the packaging for each box.

Barrel we purchased at the closing sale.

100 gift boxes we purchased at the closing sale. Unfortunately the logo is just a sticker on the plastic.

We visited this store in May 2017 and then again in May 2018, twice in July 2018, three times in August 2018, and one final time on September 1st, 2018 the day before it closed for good. Each time we took a good amount of pictures of the store and a large selection of those pictures are located below. We also took a video with a tour of the store in its final few days of business. You can view it below and also on our YouTube channel Retail World.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures below and remember to post your comments and thoughts at the bottom of the page!