Retail's Centenarians: Weathering Storms of Disruption for More Than 100 Years

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Retail's Centenarians: Weathering Storms of Disruption for More Than 100 Years

By Joe Skorupa - 02/11/2019

Retail plays a decisive role in the economy in terms of revenue, labor and influence. And it always has. So it is important to give recognition to retailers that have weathered storms of change and disruption for more than 100 years.

I first wrote about retail's centenarians in a blog posted in 2008 and since then the blog has racked up an average of 12,000 views per year. Retailers that have lasted more than a century are worth recognizing because, against formidable odds, they developed an enduring brand, a loyal customer base, and rapidly adapted to unforeseen conditions.

No doubt luck played a role in their century-and-a-half runs of success, but more than anything else they avoided lethal failings that have afflicted so many retailers in recent years, i.e. over expansion, piling up excessive debt, postponing upgrades, and being acquired by poorly run parent companies.

Top 10 Oldest Retailers

The last time I updated the top-10 oldest U.S. retailer list I was forced to remove the venerable Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), which ceased operations in 2015, after a run of 156 years. Founded in 1859 by George Gilman, A&P was the largest grocery chain in the U.S. from 1951 to 1975 and until 1965 it was the largest retailer of any kind.

For this update, I was nearly forced to remove Sears, but fortunately for the historic company it has been give at least a temporary reprieve by a bankruptcy court, although its future is still uncertain. Sears, unfortunately, has been going through a management-led existential crisis for the last 10 years and may not appear on the top-10 oldest retailer list the next time it is updated.

Because this story is so well read I am constantly getting new information about long-running retailers and so I am adding one new name to the top-10 oldest U.S. retailers list (Shaw's)  and moving one name over to the near-miss category (Haverty's Furniture). Since so many websites link to the story, I made changes to the original web page, which you can access here.

To qualify for this list, retailers must have 10 or more store locations in the U.S. or surpass $100 million in sales. The brand name must also be in continuous operation. The list was compiled from Web research, industry sources, and reaching out to retail experts. We look forward to hearing from anyone that has additional candidates that make the list.

Pre-Civil War: Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Kiehl's and Macy's

The top-10 oldest retailers include four that started before the Civil War and six that began before 1886. They are:

  • Brooks Brothers
  • Lord & Taylor
  • Kiehl's
  • Macy's 
  • Shaw's
  • Bloomingdales
  • Saks 5th Avenue
  • Von Maur
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Sears

For complete information about the top-10 oldest retailers go to the original story.

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