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Spokane

Then and Now: Sprouse Reitz Variety Stores

Mon., Nov. 13, 2017

Starting around 1940, Sprouse Reitz variety stores began popping up around Spokane. For housewives, there were household and craft supplies. For kids, there was candy and small toys.

By the mid-1950s, there were six stores spread from the Spokane Valley to the Northside. The suburban stores were modest compared with the Woolworths and Newberry variety stores downtown, but they carried many essential goods, clothing, sewing notions and fabric and other categories at bargain prices. Some stores had large fabric sections. A few Sprouse Reitz stores had lunch counters.

A 1940 advertisement offered dishes, ladies purses, school supplies, mixing bowls and bird cage stands.

Robert Allen Sprouse and Fred Reitz started their variety store in 1909 in Tacoma, Washington. The headquarters was moved to Portland, Oregon in 1919.

The surge of discount retail is the story of the 20th century. The design and fine tuning of sourcing, ordering, warehousing, shipping and stocking the inventory has created the discount stores that have become an American staple. A 1960s Spokane phone book listed a dozen independent variety stores, plus chains like Newberrry’s, Spouse Reitz, Woolworth’s, Kress and others.

At the height of its popularity, Sprouse Reitz had almost 400 stores in 11 western states. In the late 1980s, the old-fashioned dime stores were fading in the marketplace and feeling pressure from dollar stores and drugstores like Payless. In 1987, Sprouse Reitz sales were up 6.3 percent, but profits down 45 percent. The five-and-dimes started a campaign to remodel their stores. “What we’ve had to do is reposition our merchandise mix and work a little harder on our presentation,” Robert Sprouse II, grandson of the founder, told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. During the makeover, many stores were rebranded as “Sprouse!” By the early 1990s, the company began selling off stores to cut costs. Some stores went independent and became part of the Benjamin Franklin store chain. After several rounds of sell-offs, Sprouse Reitz liquidated the last of their stores in 1994.

One of the last Ben Franklin stores, once a Sprouse Reitz in Oldtown, Idaho, closed in August of this year. Cheney’s Ben Franklin store close in 2012.