Carolyn Kruse

Carolyn Kruse

Carolyn Kruse

If you grew up in New England in the 70s, 80s, 90s and even early 2000s, you’ll likely remember these once hugely popular stores. Once upon a time, before Target and Walmart, life revolved around Bradlees. They had everything for the home at discount prices. It got me to thinking about some other retailers that were a big part of our lives, and are now gone. So, here we are… Remembering 5 iconic New England stores you grew up with.

When you need computers, tvs and other electronics, you probably head over to Best Buy. But, there was a time when another electronic/media store ruled supreme in these parts. Or, how about clothes shopping? Department stores were everything, back in the day. And New England had 2 of the biggest which now cease to exist.

The first decade of the 2000s saw one of the most iconic New England stores fading fast and falling of the map. Clothes were a bargain, but it involved a valiant hunt for your item. And the hunt took place in a dark and dingy space. Still, we loved the chase and the thrill of scoring.

From Fancy To No- Frills Stores

As Only in Massachusetts recently pointed out in an article about these retailers we grew up with, these “storied shops “now exist only in our memory.” The places you’ll revisit here ranged from discount chains to upscale department stores. One of these famous department stores still lives on in their signature food item. They are gone, but their muffins live on in recipes we have kept alive, and at one popular furniture store that still sells them.

So, here we go. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to visit places that once we part of our fabric. We relied on these 5 iconic New England stores we grew up with to entertain and provide us with necessities (and some not so necessary items). One of these places was known throughout the country for an unusual wedding event. Look, learn, love and relive with me.

  • 1. Filene's Basement

    Opened: 1909

    Closed: Dec. 29. 2011

    Sure Filenes was a fancy department store we all loved to shop. But in 1909 Edward A. Filene decided to take advantage of basement space and offer deep discounts. He founded Filene’s Basement really as a way to make a profit off inventory surplus from his father’s department store upstairs. In essence, this practice “pioneered the concept of bargains when it devised a system of automatic markdowns.” ( Brilliant, isn’t it?  Starting in 1947, Filene’s Basement would become famous, across the country, for their wedding gown sale, called Running of the Brides. It was quite the media event as TV cameras watched hundreds of women scoured through thousands of dresses on racks, all dratically marked down. There were no dressing rooms, so the brides-to-be tried them on in the aisles.

    Filene's Basement

    (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)


  • 2. Jordan Marsh

    Opened: 1841

    Closed: 1991

    Most of us know Jordan Marsh for their muffins, which still exist in our recipes and at Jordan’s Furniture locations (no relation). But Jordan Marsh was a very popular department store founded and headquartered here in Boston. By the 1950s they opened stores in Florida. Sadly, by 1991 most of the New England Jordan Marsh stores were gone and their spaces were taken over by Macy’s. Cheer up. You can still have their famous blueberry muffins. Get the recipe HERE. 

    Jordan Marsh department store in January, 1976

    Jordan Marsh and Downtown Crossing, Boston seen in January, 1976.

    Posted by GBH Archives on Saturday, December 2, 2023
  • 3. Bradlee's

    Opened: 1958

    Closed: 2001

    When I lived on Cape Cod in the 90s, I lived for Bradlees. It was the only place you could get pretty much everything for your home, plus toys, music, electronics, and clothing as well. Think Target, but even more selection at better prices. And it was usually next door to it’s sister store, Stop & Shop. So convenient! This discount department store was founded in New London, Connecticut. There were 35 Bradlees stores in Massachusetts, alone. However, by March of 2001, they were all gone.

  • 4. Circuit City

    This was THE place. It gave us some of what Bradlees offered for music and electronics, but was much more specialized. Circuit City was an electronics superstores. But eventually they also became well known and loved for their customer service. You may remember one of the company’s slogans:  “Welcome to Circuit City, Where Service Is State of the Art”. They sold appliances, TVs, radios, games, music, movies, phones and pretty much anything electronic. Eventually, Circuit City sold off the appliance portion of the business to focus more on gaming (like PlayStations) and cellular phones. When Best Buy came around, Circuit City had a hard time keeping up, and eventually caved.

  • 5. Building #19

    Opened: 1964

    Closed: 2013

    Admittedly, I was a frequent flier at Building 19. If you could stand the stench, disorganization and dust, you could find some amazing deals. I always went rug shopping here. They had a great selection and lived up to their slogan, “Good Stuff Cheap!”

    We love this Autumn picture of one of our stores by ken0624700 on Flickr! Can you figure out which store it is? (We removed the fraction to make it a little trickier!)

    Posted by Building 19 on Thursday, September 26, 2013

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