Ponce City Market- The Sears Years
In 1926 the Sears and Roebuck Company opened up one of its ten regional distribution plants on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. This massive building has always been a mixed-use structure, with the majority of it devoted to processing and shipping orders from the Sears Catalog, while a portion of it was always intended for use as a retail store. Unlike many other department stores of this era Sears chose to locate its stores outside of downtown business districts.
Sears found this block of Ponce de Leon attractive for three reasons. Firstly, the land was situated to take advantage of Atlanta road networks , Ponce de Leon and North Avenues linked the site to the urban core of early 20th century Atlanta. Secondly, the site provided easy access to the Southern Railroad on the east side of the building. A spur rail line was built from the Southern Railroad and ran directly into the building. Thirdly, the site's location was chosen, according to W.H. Alexander from Sears, because of the ample space for parking.
The opening of the Sears building was heralded as a harbinger of great things to come for this corridor of Ponce de Leon Ave. The Atlanta Constitution noted that in other cities businesses had moved into areas where Sears’ distribution plants and stores opened. From its inception this building was seen as an anchor for the commercial heart of Ponce de Leon Ave and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The plans for this building were massive. When it was constructed it was over 1 million square feet in floor space. The footprint of the lot purchased by Sears was over 700,000 square feet and took up a city block. The total cost of land and construction for this gigantic building was close to $6 million dollars in 1925, which would be approximately a $65 million in current costs. However by 1928 a two story addition was planned in order to deal with increased business. Further additions would continue through the 1960’s.
In the 1930’s Sears continued to expand the plant despite the tough economic times. In 1930 a Farmer's Market was added in the rear of the building. This market was created as way to help out small farmers sell their produce directly to the public. In 1936 the Farmer's Market was moved to an enclosed space and an outdoor annex, that displayed farm equipment and a service station was added.
The next major addition to the Sears Building was in the 1960’s. Two separate expansions expanded the building to its current 2 million square feet. The first expansion was in 1964. The second expansion of the building in 1966 added 621,700 square feet to the building. As part of this expansion a 10 story addition was added to the southeast corner of the building, a 3 story parking deck, a new auto service center, and a remodeling of the retail portion of the building.
This 1966 expansion of the building was the last under Sears' ownership. This trend of growth did not survive the 1970’s. While the building’s location was initially ideal in terms of its connections with the road network, growth of Atlanta in the 20th century as well as the creation of the Interstate System made this location more problematic for truck based distribution. In the late 20th century the neighborhood around the Sears Building decayed as white flight occurred in Atlanta. By 1978 the retail store in the Sears Building was no longer the company's flagship store in Atlanta but a place where Sears sold off its surplus merchandise. The retail store was closed in 1979 and the distribution center was shuttered in 1989. The shuttering of this distribution plant meant the closure of one of the major empolyers on Ponce de Leon Avenue.