7 catalog showrooms you will never shop again

Did you shop at Service Merchandise?

Image: dinoridersworld

Here's a challenge: Try to describe a catalog showroom to a millennial. 

First, you have to explain catalogs. Sure, everyone still gets the occassional J. Crew or Cabela's catalog in the mailbox, but we're talking about the fat, seasonal catalogs.

Major retailers like Sears shipped out these 900-ish-page behemoths before Christmas, again in the spring. It was like Amazon.com packed inside a phone book. (Side note: Explain phone books.) 

Before Walmart, Target and other big box stores anchored every strip mall, catalog showrooms could be found sprinkled around America. They were pretty similar, if you replaced all the grocery items with jewelry. Catalog showrooms prided themselves on their jewelry. 

Only, instead of finding shelves stocked with multiple items, catalog showrooms displayed products one at a time, ofter under glass. It was like a museum for electronics and sporting goods. Only, you point at the display item, or note its item number, and then have an employee go get one out of the warehouse for you. 

Those were good times! Today, we shop in the warehouses ourselves.

Let's take a look back at seven notable catalog showrooms you will never shop at again. Though, let's be honest. You probably won't shop at any catalog showrooms ever again.

1. Best Products


Beginning in Virginia in 1957, Best — not to be confused with Best Buy — had a solid four-decade run until shuttering in 1997. When the chain filed for its second bankruptcy, it was operating 180 stores in 23 states.

Image: YouTube

2. Brendle's


Based out of North Carolina, Brendle's was more a regional affair. It started way back in 1918, though also went under in the late 1990s. You'll see that is a common theme when it comes to catalog retailers.

Image: lookinthetunk / Flickr

3. Ellman's


Competing with Brendle's was Ellman's, based out of Atlanta. In 1985, the chain was bought out by Service Merchandise. How long did those last? You'll find out below…

Image: tennwen423 / eBay

4. H. J. Wilson Co.


Service Merchandise was snatching up smaller fish in 1985. The giant also purchased all 80 locations of this Louisiana-based chain that year, commonly referred to as just "Wilson's."

Image: mall-hall-of-fame

5. K's Merchandise Mart


K's Merchadise Mart had no relation to Kmart. Yes, that's confusing. Based in the Chicago area, K's spread out to other Midwestern states, selling furniture, jewelry, toys and electronics to booming suburbanites. Its lifespan was remarkably similar to Best, running from 1957 to around the turn of the millennium.

Image: dinoridersworld

6. Service Merchandise


Service Merchandise began in 1934, dominating the catalog showroom biz until its demise in 2002 — yes, all those snatched-up Ellman's and Wilson's went with it. The giant pioneered features like a Drive-Thru window, though that did not stick. It's hard to fit a home stereo through a car window as you would a Big Mac.

Image: Flickr

7. Witmark


The Michigan chain had a lifespan of 1969 to 1997. As you can see, 1997 was the apocalypse for the catalog showroom. It's no coincidence that Amazon.com went online in 1995.

Which catalog showroom did you shop? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Wikipedia



Let's take a stroll through the shopping malls of the past. READ MORE

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AndreaZ 43 months ago
In Southern New England we had Save Rite. We also had S&H Green Stamp showrooms too.
BobTravis 52 months ago
Shopped at Service Merchandise and Best Products. Worked at Best Products for 8 years!
NorbAikin 52 months ago
What about Brand Names? Or was that just a regional/WNY thing? I remember they had a catalog and a store.
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