Remember This? Business buzz strengthens on Highway 49By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
By 1972, commercial development was branching out of the Downtown Auburn core onto Highway 49 and reshaping how Auburnites did business.
That move included Montgomery Ward.
This installment of “Remember This?” is the “rest of the story” for an earlier column that delved into the 1974 development of the vacant Montgomery Ward building in Downtown Auburn as Auburn’s first shopping mall.
That column provided a glimpse into the beginnings of what is now the Gold Country Mall. Contractor Greeley Herrington — developer of much of the Skyridge subdivision in Auburn — transformed what had been the Montgomery Ward building into a multi-level mall with room for 20 businesses.
The building he took over had been closed and vacant for 18 months.
By that time, Montgomery Ward — in a new Auburn incarnation as a catalog store at 446 Grass Valley Highway — had been open since mid-1972.
The photo of the smartly dressed group at the door of the new location is seen in this Auburn Journal archives photo, first published Aug. 3, 1972.
Some of the names may be familiar to longtime residents: They are, from left, Joe Wiltermood, Auburn manager of the tires, batteries and accessories, store manager Chuck Pence, Jack Amick, vice president of the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce, Al Simons, president of the chamber, Linda Smith, assistant store manager, Ralph Sauer, general manager, Gerald McCormick, district catalog division manager, and, in natty seersucker and shades, Theron Cooper, training manager from Oakland.
The catalog store would be a presence on Highway 49 between Elm and Palm avenues through Christmas Eve 1985. Journal files contain a December 1985 ad in the form of “A Letter To Customers” from store manager Steve Hance thanking them for loyal support since the 1972 catalog store opening.
Montgomery Ward was a presence in Auburn for several decades but the company was discontinuing its 113-year-old catalog business, he said. And that meant the catalog store’s closure. Shoppers were directed to a nearby Montgomery Ward store on Sunrise Boulevard in Sacramento.
And just like that, Auburn was without a Montgomery Wards.
“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.