Livingston’s Department Store on the south side of the square was arguably the premiere downtown shopping store in the 1960s. A close second, perhaps first in women’s minds, was Roland’s store for women on the north side of the square.
Founded in March 1866 by Sam and Aaron Livingston, the business was originally known as the McLean County Dry Goods Store. It was in the middle of the 100 block of West Washington Street, (the south side of the courthouse square), and there it remained for 113 years.
Livingston’s had 42,350 square feet of floor space, making it one of the larger department stores in downstate Illinois. Today, by way of comparison, some Wal-Mart Supercenters span 223,000 square feet. In 1946, Livingston’s added another floor by excavating a full basement to hold its household appliance department and a fur storage vault.
By the 1970s, downtown Bloomington was in decline. Sears and J.C. Penney’s had left downtown for Eastland Mall in the 1960s, and Montgomery Ward later moved to College Hills Mall around 1980. Roland’s relocated to the brave new world of Veterans Parkway but closed for good in the late 1980s. Locally owned department and clothing stores found it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to compete against the enormous economies of scale enjoyed by the likes of Sears and other retail behemoths.
Livingston’s never made it out of downtown. Despite an infusion of some $100,000 for redecorating and increased promotion, sales were disappointing, and Livingston’s closed on Jan. 31, 1979. The store held the obligatory “going out of business” sale in its final week, offering up store fixtures, mannequins (“whole and parts”), cash registers and clothes racks. Read more about Livingston’s in this column by Bill Kemp.
Pictured: Phoenix Hall, located on the south side of the McLean County courthouse square, is seen here in this 1860 lithograph (the hall spanned the seven uppermost windows on the left). In 1917, Livingston’s razed five of seven Greek Revival buildings (including the two housing Phoenix Hall) to make way for a modern department store. Today, Michael’s Restaurant occupies the street-level floor of that building.