Ames began in 1958 when two Connecticut brothers, Milton and Irving Gilman, opened their first store in the Ames Worsted Textile Company mill. The name of the Ames Department Store was due to simply reusing the old sign of the textile mill for the new business.
Many of the company’s first stores were converted industrial sites, such as the first store in a former textile mill. Ames exploited the availability of cheap real estate in this manner in the first decades of the company, later moving to custom-built store facilities that provided standardized planning and marketing. Many Ames stores from the 1980s were the department store 'anchor store' for many discount mall developments.
Ames acquired the "Big N" chain from Neisner Brothers in November 1978. In 1984 Ames acquired the King's Department Stores
chain and added most of its 193 stores to the fold. In 1985 Ames acquired the G.C. Murphy chain, based in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and converted most of its larger stores to the Ames banner (the remaining stores would be sold to McCrory Stores
in 1989). Three years later Ames expanded further, acquiring the 392 store Zayre
chain in 1988. Saddled with increased debt and hampered by the additional cost of converting those stores to Ames stores, the company suffered a significant reduction in profitability in late 1989 and early 1990. The Zayre chain also operated with stores concentrated in two distinct regions, the Northeast and Florida, which made coordination difficult.
In April 1990, Ames filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. One of the causes of the bankruptcy appeared to be Ames' policy of extending consumer credit to almost anyone who asked, without first checking their credit rating in an attempt to increase their market share. Ames had also replaced the Zayre credit card program with Visa cards that could be used anywhere Visa was accepted. This often resulted in their giving credit cards to customers who were already in debt to them, and they tended to attract high risk borrowers who tended to default on their debt payments. During their bankruptcy, Ames closed 370 stores. It was also during this time that Ames changed their logo, trading in their traditional red and white colors for the green color present in Zayre stores; this eventually became an identifying mark of most Ames stores.
After successfully emerging from bankruptcy on December 30, 1992, the company returned to profitability in 1993 and improved its operating performance. During the 1990s, Ames was also known for moving into many former locations of their competitors. The chain added several Bradlees
stores that were closed in the early part of the decade and sixteen former Jamesway
stores when that chain went out of business in late 1995. Ames also took over several Caldor locations after their liquidation in 1999, as well as a few Montgomery Ward
stores when that chain closed later that year.
With the acquisition of Hills Department Stores
in 1998, Ames became the nation's fourth-largest discount retail chain behind Wal-Mart, Kmart
, and Target
. Although Hills was headquartered in suburban Boston, its stores were concentrated in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and western New York, which was a regional complement to Ames stores in the northeast. Now, Ames had just over 600 stores, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, employing about 22,000.
In 2000, Ames moved into Chicago by acquiring all but one of the seven Goldblatt's department stores. Other locations included former Venture and Builders Square stores, making for a total of 11 stores. Before the opening day, a television marketing campaign showed cheery Ames employees working while singing "My Kind of Town," a song that strongly referred to Chicago. Billboards read, “Our Kind of Town, Your Kind of Discount Store”. On September 21, 2000, Ames opened eight of its Chicago stores and opened the others shortly thereafter.
The company filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time on August 20, 2001. In November 2001, Ames closed 16 more stores and a distribution center. In December 2001, Ames closed 54 additional stores, leaving the chain with only 333 stores. Ames closed another six stores in June 2002, leaving the chain with about half of what they had in 1998.
On August 14, 2002, Ames executives announced they would close the remaining 327 stores in the chain and wind down business. “Continued softness in sales, combined with tightening terms and slower shipments from our suppliers, have reduced our funds availability below critical levels,” Ames chairman and CEO Joseph R. Ettore, who had presided over the bankruptcy and liquidation of Stuart's and Jamesway prior to joining Ames, said about Ames' decision to go out of business. Analysts generally believe that debt related to the acquisition of Hills Department Stores, at the same time as the tightened credit markets of 2001, caused the bankruptcy. The increasing penetration of Wal-Mart into the Northeast also made Ames' fate inevitable. In the Pittsburgh area, Target was already planning and had started an expansion into that area just as Ames was struggling, capitalizing on Ames' problems.
Because of the smaller size of many Ames stores, they were difficult to convert to newer uses, and many times remained empty fixtures of small northeastern cities. Many of the smaller New England area stores were eventually taken over by Ocean State Job Lot, a Rhode Island-based closeout store.
Close Up of Vignette:
Common Stock, specimen, late 1900’sPrinter: Security-Columbian / United States Bank Note Company Dimensions:
8” (h) x 12” (w)State: CT-Connecticut Subject Matter: Retail and Related
| Department Stores
| Specimen Pieces Vignette Topic(s): Female Subject
| Skyline Scene Condition:
No fold lines, punch hole and stamp cancels in the signature areas and body, very crisp.