Abandoned Retail - Sears - St. Paul, MN
This way to Sears!
Oh yeah, that's right...
The St. Paul, MN, Sears department store closed their historic Rice Street location, at 6 p.m. Sunday, January 6, 2019. Well, 6 p.m. was the plan, but the store actually closed at noon that day.
When it closed, that left only two remaining Sears locations in Minnesota (and zero Kmarts). The last two Sears locations were at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka, and the Mall of America. Which shouldn't be allowed to exist. Both of those Sears stores would close by the end of March, 2019.
But for now, I'm only concerning myself with the former Sears store at 425 Rice St., in St. Paul, MN.
Built by architect Victor Gruen (reputed as the "father of the American shopping mall"), and opened in 1963, the St. Paul Sears was known for its modernist design, which looks very dated today. It also looks very similar to the still standing and still vacant Sears store at the Brookdale Mall. Which I wrote about several years ago, and it's become my second most read story on this site.
While I'd been to the Brookdale location many times, I never paid the news of the St. Paul Sears closing any mind, when I heard it was going away. I'd never shopped there, didn't really know it existed, and the disappearance of Sears from the retail landscape was widely expected by this point. So it went away without me really noticing.
In late July of this year, I had taken Laura to meet with a surgeon in regards to a much needed knee replacement. I missed the exit we needed to take while driving there. So we pulled into the closed up Sears parking lot, to figure out how we needed to get back to the right place. Only thing was, I didn't know it was a Sears at the time. I knew it was a giant abandoned retail store, and that I needed to do some more research.
Snapping a couple of quick pictures before getting back on the freeway, I made note of this place. Knowing that we'd have to return to the area for her surgery in the near future, I'd have the chance to take better pictures of the property then. Maybe even figure out what it used to be.
Which would end up being a little over a month later...
September 7, 2021.
Since we'd have to be at the hospital to check in very early the next morning, Laura booked us a nice hotel room for the night before. Several years ago, this used to be an Embassy Suites hotel, but now it's Drury. According to the employee that Laura talked to, the hotel was closed for more than a year, and was completely gutted. Stripped down to the soil inside the original empty shell.
What they did with the space looked very nice. The nine story hotel has an open courtyard, with plenty of available seating, several bars and a simple buffet. Which I appreciated early the next morning, so I could get breakfast while Laura was getting ready for surgery. Part of which was not being allowed food for 12 hours before the procedure. Diced potatoes, cheese and sausage patties were just what the doctor ordered for me!
The Drury was located directly across two interstate freeways from the hospital we needed to be at the next morning. (This picture was taken from our room on the 9th floor.) Chosen for this very reason. If the car wouldn't start, Laura could simply run across the freeways to have her knee replaced! It was probably for the best that we didn't have to resort to that... The car started with no problems.
After I unloaded the car and brought everything up to the room, I went for a walk around the immediate hotel area, to see this part of downtown St. Paul. Mostly gentrified, nearly all of the buildings were clean and new or freshly renovated. So a lot of the pictures I took were similar and rather uninteresting. And I'm not going to bothering showing most of them.
Everywhere I walked, I tried to get a decent shot of the tall neon 1st, at the top of the First National Bank building. (This was the best of five pictures I took from different vantage points.) Originally built in 1931, at 32 stories, the First National Bank was the tallest building in St. Paul until 1986.
Colorful -if not rather pointless- mural painted on the side of a building, overlooking a small community garden. That replaced a previously demolished building. I had to fight the sun for this picture. Standing just so it was hidden behind the high-rise, a few blocks west.
Here's a nice vintage painted sign on an older renovated building. The first floor no longer has the Produce Exchange Bank, but it does have a Jimmy John's!
With the area surrounding this building looking all shiny, new and clean, I like that this was still here to serve as a reminder. I don't know what this was (or is), but it stood out from everything around it. If you can afford to live in this redone neighborhood, it's good that you have to look at this plywood every day. This will keep you grounded, as you hop from upscale building to upscale building, while sipping your lattes.
Walking closer to the freeway, I found one section of sidewalk that featured a baseball haiku stamped into the concrete:
Four feet tall and poised
Glove on, front row, third base line
Yearning for the foul.
The sidewalk poetry wasn't all that far from CHS Field, where the AAA St. Paul Saints play their home games. I wasn't planning on walking all the way down to the stadium, but I'd hoped to take a picture of what I could see from the nearest overpass.
This one will work!
Plus I can include that sweet Anchor Paper Co. sign in the background!
Looking to the southeast over I-94. Just beyond the curve in the freeway, you can see the stadium lights from CHS Field.
View from the opposite side of the bridge, facing northwest. Here you can see some of the mess of ramps and roadways that make up the I-94 and I-35E interchange. 35E goes to the north, while 94 travels east/west. The two are combined for several miles, before 35E branches off and goes south. Our target hospital sits just beyond the freeways. The Minnesota State Capital dome can be seen on the left side of the picture.
After taking this picture, I walked back to the hotel. Laura was finished with her video call, so we were going to visit the Drury courtyard to sample the buffet dinner, then go back to the room to finish getting ready for morning. Hopefully a little sleep would be had.
Later that night, I took advantage of some rare quiet time to do a little writing about Toronto Blue Jays cards, for another story I'm working on. Reruns of The Office on Comedy Central provided a nice backdrop for hotel bed creative productivity time. Until I fell asleep with a finger on the J key. There are not several hundred J's in Blue Jays, only one. And it's capitalized.
We both tapped out around 2am and took a nap, before getting up at 5am, to go to the hospital. Which needed her to check in at 7am, with he knee operation starting around 9:30am. That took about two and a half hours, before the hour long supervised recovery room. Laura's surgery went well, and she was sent up on(coincidentally) the 9th floor of the hospital, with a room for the next two days.
A window at the end of the hallway overlooked the Drury Hotel we just stayed at. And in the distance above it, you can (kind of) see that neon 1st of First National Bank.
Her room faced west, and didn't offer as nice of a view. However, just before I left on the second night she was there, I got this great picture of the sun setting over these weird cloud pieces. I like this picture a lot.
But this was the second night of her stay. I was here until visiting hours ended at 8pm, on that night.
The first night she was here, they set her free from the recovery room just before 2pm. I met her in transport. They wheeled her bed by me as I waited in the hall at the 9th floor nurses station, but she didn't open her eyes. I spent the next three hours with her in the room, as she drifted in and out of consciousness. While I underwent zero surgeries, it was still a very long day for me as well. I left a little bit after 5pm, so she could get some rest. Or as much rest as one can get in a hospital...
After exiting the parking ramp and mentally mapping my route to Sears, I set out to a destination planned out some 6 weeks earlier. Roughly four blocks, due west.
I didn't go through the effort of trying to get a decent picture of the front of the Minnesota State Capitol building. Which I should have. But this is a pretty good shot of the back of it! The capital building is two blocks west of the hospital, and the abandoned Sears was two blocks west of that. All of which are easily accessible by University Avenue, which runs east/west behind the hospital.
For much of the St. Paul portion of University Avenue, until it veers off in Minneapolis, dual light rail tracks run down the center of the road. Passenger trains seemed to run through every ten minutes. I had to wait through an entire traffic signal cycle in order to turn left into Sears, due to an unloading train in the median, next to me.
Here's a photo I found online of Sears grand opening in 1963.
This would be the southeast corner of the store.
A more recent internet photo (2017?) from roughly the same angle.
I hadn't seen either of these before I took my Sears pictures, so I wasn't able to plan my shots beforehand. Inexplicably, I didn't walk further away from the building on the south side to take any full perspective shots.
Standing at the southeast corner, looking west.
Southeast store entrance.
Looks like this door was recently shattered, though I didn't notice any dates stamped on the plywood. Nice puddle of glass shards on the floor inside.
Via my reflection, you can see all the way across Sears. At least there are no shoppers getting in the way of the picture.
I'm pretty sure I wasn't looking at this part of the store. Thanks to the Googles, I found this photo of the St. Paul Sears store closing sale.
"What You See Here Today, May Not Be Here Tomorrow!"
Walking away from those doors, I went further out into the east parking lot. An urban outdoorsman set up camp around the corner. He glared at me when I walked by. I moved on quickly and didn't take the picture I wanted of him unloading his shopping cart into his tent.
When I passed the campgrounds, I was sad that I missed the campfire. A small pile of extinguished charcoal briquettes were safely disposed of, next to the pillar holding up roof.
Sears left no obvious label scars on the building, but there was a nice one on this sign. It was attached to the covered sidewalk that leads up to the main doors. This seemed to be a feature of early 1960 era Sears larger department stores.
In the distance, you'll see a man and several traffic cones. When I entered the parking lot, there were several student drivers working on parking skills in different areas. A car was doing parallel parking drills with these cones. The man by those cones didn't seem to be part of the driving school program. He alternated wobbling around, sipping off a cliché brown paper bag covered bottle, loudly babbling gibberish, while moving the cones a few feet every few seconds.
He ignored me as I tried to ignore him, when I took the Sears Parking sign (that is mostly blocked by this one) picture, that led off this story. Would have liked a better picture of that sign from multiple angles, but I didn't want to stick around to take them.
So I walked back over towards the camping guy. At this point I didn't care and was going to take pictures of the main east entrance no matter what. I'll respect his space completely and quickly move on. I hadn't seen him come out of the tent since I walked away from his area. So maybe he wouldn't come out when I went back.
But now I had to deal with those student student drivers moving in towards Sears. I guess to practice parking in diagonal spaces? You'd think that would come before parallel parking. The third car is Laura's, which I drove to take us down here. Of course, now in my 30th year of holding a driver's license, I had no problem parking between the double yellow lines.
Had I needed to parallel park however, this story probably doesn't happen.
This entrance on the east side is the largest of all at this Sears.
There's even a windowed showroom to the right of the doors.
You can see across the store to some doors on the north side. But when I walked around to them, I couldn't see in.
Someone was kicking at the glass, shattered, not broken.
Protected by ADT. Just not very well...
And how many logos ago was this particular one?
Gotta love that window. Probably looked like that since 1963.
Looking into that room with the window, next to the doors. Some interesting water damage going on in here. That drop ceiling looks about ready to drop.
Walking to the north, to the next set of doors. Then turning around to look to the southeast. One of the student drivers is parking next to the camping guy's tent. Maybe they're here to drop off supplies? Perhaps some fresh charcoal briquettes?
That set of doors. Complete with the Sears Roebuck guarantee window. This one more chewed up than the other one.
Most of the Sears doors had these notices affixed to them. All were dated April 16, 2019. More than three months after Sears closed for business. Must have taken them that long to clear out the building, so it could be registered as vacant.
This sign was stuck to the north side doors I mentioned earlier, as being unable to see through.
As I found out later, the DMV used to run services from the second floor of the Sears store. While Sears was still open. I'm assuming that stopped when the store closed. But I could be wrong, if the DMV remained here for a few months after Sears closed, that would explain why the certificate of vacancy was dated as such.
Reflected in the glass door would be the (also closed) Sears Auto Center. I'll go and check that out in a minute. One more thing caught my eye for a photo before I cross the parking lot...
It's a Siamese Connection!
Shouldn't those large fire alarm bells be at least touching?
And 575 feet, due east, would bring you to right about where that guy with the bottle and traffic cones was still doing whatever it is he was doing. And there was only one of him?
Two CONES!!! I get it now!
Sears Auto Center, with sweet 1963 era quad light pole.
All of the bay doors were covered up, so I didn't get a picture of the interior.
The dumpster in front was also very full. Something tells me it wasn't filled with Sears garbage...
Some more doors...
The main lobby of the Sears Auto Center's window paper is peeling off.
Which is good news for me, so I can see what the interior looks like!
But first, I'll attempt to fight the reflections to take a picture of the posters still hanging in the windows.
You can read the text, but the actor portraying a Sears automotive technician is nearly lost to the clouds.
And the Cathedral of St. Paul is growing out of his elbow.
I didn't know Tom Segura worked for Sears Auto Center!
So here's what the former Sears Auto Center looks like inside. Nothing too interesting. Appears to have some water leaking in towards the back.
Next, I walked around to the side of the building and found a guy just sitting in his car next to the door. He was on his phone and didn't seem to care that I was next to him taking pictures. However, I couldn't take any of this side of the auto center without getting him and his stupid car in the picture. And I didn't want any sort of confrontation that may come about for taking his picture.
See the problems that can occur with my strange hobby?
You can even see the reflection of his stupid car in the door. This side of the auto center featured a canopy covering two lanes of parking. Or what could have been a small gas station at some point a long time ago. Would have liked to have taken a picture of it you dickhead...
Anyways, the door on this side also featured the same keep out vacant building notices that were on every door of Sears. But this door had a sign announcing the DMV inside of the Sears store.
According to this sign, the Sears DMV closed on December 28, 2018. Reflective sun partially obscures the notable information of a new DMV location that opened on December 31, 2018. So that piece of the puzzle has an answer!
Looking across the Sears Auto Center from the under the canopy doors. A light has been left on, in what would likely be access to the garage work bays, the would sit behind the far wall. Guess that means electricity has not been shut off at the auto center.
North facing windows were all opaqued out.
As were the north side garage bay doors. This case with boards.
A Sears Auto Center parking sign was moved away from the auto center, and plopped near the loading dock. I briefly debated stuffing it into the back of Laura's car and plopping it in front of my garage. It would've looked really cool there, and I'm pretty sure Sears is finished using it...
Sears from the northwest. The sign I just finished talking about can be seen (along with two other less interesting signs) on the right side of this picture. Trained eyes will also notice the Siamese Connection, that I talked about even earlier.
Still from the northwest. With the loading dock in the center, and the Cathedral of St. Paul on the right side of this picture. The cathedral is a couple of blocks south of the freeway, which is roughly a couple of blocks from where I'm standing. So yeah, the cathedral is pretty big...
Looking inside the Sears doors next to the loading dock. I'm still wondering why the police lines you're not supposed to cross, are half ripped off the wall. What happened just beyond what I can see?
A small area just next to the loading dock. A little bit of garbage has gathered in here, but nothing I felt was worth a photo.
Guess that small dumpy area was known as "Rooster's Roost".
Whatever that means.
Write your own dirty cock joke. I'm too tired for that.
Looking across the loading dock. Big fan of those old light fixtures and sprinklers. As well as the inverted umbrella supports peeking out of the building.
Loading dock from the front. The two sets of stairs on both sides, led to nothing. Not even a small platform at the top.
A partial wall blocked the dock to the west. Parking lot traffic would have been routed around this area, to allow for trucks to bring Sears new merchandise. Now this wall just looks strange sitting out and alone where it is. The blocks with the circles in them are also featured on the southwest corner of the building, but that's it. If they were going for a theme with this building, they kind of forgot to put in the effort.
Looking down the rest of the west facing wall of Sears.
Rusty looking beat up door to the Sears gas chamber.
Pretty cool to see a reference to the old NSP (Northern States Power) company. Through a bunch of mergers and stock buyouts and rich people making themselves richer that I couldn't even begin to explain, NSP became a part of Xcel Energy about 20 years ago. A name that loses the local identity that a name like Northern States Power used to have.
Just not at the St. Paul Sears...
The southwest doors.
And all the way across to the east doors.
Just like earlier!
Where it may have looked like this during it's last days! In the distance, you can see an escalator to the second floor that has been closed off. Now I really want to see what the second floor looks like.
The southwest corner of Sears. Very few lights were still on, including every third one, under the canopy.
Artist rendering of the 1963 Sears grand opening. There used to be a very large, cursive Sears next to the bricks with circles in them. The ones that were only here, and in the wall hiding the loading dock.
At least they're still here. The large cursive Sears is long gone. Although it looks like there may be a rusting spot on the while column, from where the supports were once attached.
Also in that 1963 Sears rendering, it appears there used to be display windows around the southwest corner. Today, there's just more of this multi-colored Tetrisy brick.
South sidewalks in front of Sears.
Sears in 2018, from the Googles...
Plenty of parking is available!
Placeholders on the roof for the five individual letters of the Sears sign of years ago, can still be seen. Hanging between the American flag and the new Sears sign.
Similar angle from September 2021.
Well, the code of conduct doesn't have anything down about camping. And since he didn't ask me for any money, he wasn't panhandling. I don't know if he was armed, but he definitely wasn't skateboarding. (Although I wish he was...) Arguments could be made about overnight parking and loitering, but that may be a grey area. I could probably call and ask Jones Lang Lasalle, but since he didn't bother me, I'm going to chalk it up as none of my business.
After all, my visit to the St. Paul Sears has already been a very pleasant experience!
Except for that guy ruining my photos at the auto center...
Parking Lot X makes it sound so dangerous!
Spaces for the Sears letters of years ago. American flag, and the pole supporting it, gone as well.
South entrance to the store, with all that great early 1960's style multi-colored brick around it. Looks like someone smashed their way inside, requiring the doors to get an ugly covering. The date on the plywood is November 11, 2020. Apparently this door was covered fairly recently. Seems like someone just really wanted to come See the Softer side of Sears...
I debated taking a short rest on one of the very not comfortable looking benches, in front of Sears. But it was getting late. Traffic was already going to suck. So I think I'll take my time and the scenic route, to see what kind of interesting things I can find on University Avenue. Which I can take all the way back to Coon Rapids. It'll just take a while longer than taking the freeways.
Now, had I taken the freeway, I never would have seen this side of the fairly new Major League Soccer stadium, Allianz Field. Recently built at the intersection of University and Snelling Avenue, in St. Paul. I have no memory of what was here before this stadium.
Across the street from Allianz, is the 1600 Spruce Tree building.
No idea what goes on there, but the structure looks really cool.
Sitting through this stoplight and train delay, I was able to take decent pictures I may have otherwise missed. While I waited, the expected rain finally developed. As much as I like cloudy, gray, overcast days for picture taking, rain ruins all that. Drops on the windows get in the way of through the windshield (or side windows) shots. Either you time your shot between the wipers, or you have to roll the windows down. Which adds more difficulty in snapping a quick picture while driving. And if it's raining too hard -as it was for a good chunk of my drive home- just put the camera away. Nothing will turn out.
A few miles west, and many more minutes of sitting in non-moving traffic and rain, I drove alongside Huntington Bank Stadium (formerly TCF Bank Stadium). This is where the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers make football stuff happen. The Minnesota Vikings footballed here for a couple of seasons, while that monstrosity known as US Bank Stadium was being built, about 6-7 years ago.
Rounding the corner, you can see directly into the stadium (through the raindrops) from street level. That's pretty cool actually. Good thing traffic wasn't moving so I could take this picture through the passenger window. Had I planned it better, I would have rolled down that window.
The St. Paul Sears closed in January, 2019. The Googles had this image from just a few weeks earlier. If you look closely, you can see someone walking towards the south doors, which are now completely boarded up. While this building probably never looked all that festive, these days it just looks sad and tired. Doubtful it'll be here a whole lot longer.
An answer to that question quickly came from B. Kyle, the president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. When asked by a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper, he stated that no plans were set in January 2019, the 22-acre site is "ripe for development."
I'm sure any redevelopment thoughts have been slowed by the Coronavirus pandemic, but I did read of one plan that seemed to have legs. Obviously the Sears buildings would be demolished. In their place, a mixture of retail and residential units would go up on the site. How original! The property would be divided into six new blocks, with streets and greenways between them. A larger light rail train station would go on the north end. With the state capital just two blocks away, I can see this making a whole of sense. A lot more than trying to find another big box retailer to take over the structures.
I doubt even Walmarts would want it.
I know I wouldn't want them putting their crap here...
Soon after we got Laura back home from surgery, Harley claimed the new mobile-throne as his own.
And he was damn proud of himself for doing it!
Get well soon Laura, the LPGA needs you back out on the links!