Historic Sears building in Camden begins demolition

 Collingswood, N.J. resident Susan Hyland, 70, recalls purchasing the dress she wore to her honeymoon at the Sears building. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Collingswood, N.J. resident Susan Hyland, 70, recalls purchasing the dress she wore to her honeymoon at the Sears building. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Demolition began on the Sears building in Camden, N.J., Wednesday morning. It will take eight weeks to tear down the 86-year-old structure.

The department store closed its doors in 1971, moving to the suburbs. The building has since been repurposed as a nightclub, a day care center, a car dealership, and a Camden Housing Authority office. Most recently, it stood empty and boarded up. But to some it will always be a historic department store, one of the first to be built with its own parking lot.

Susan Hyland, a 70-year-old resident of Collingswood, N.J., came out to see the demolition start and take one last picture. “It’s a part of your past. I remember the building so well,” she said. “I bought my dress to go on my honeymoon here. I was hoping they would find some other use for it. It’s another piece of history gone.”

The Campbell Soup Company announced its plans to develop the area next to its own headquarters in 2007, but area preservationists fought for five years to keep the Sears building standing. They were unsuccessful. After demolition, the space will be turned into an office park that Campbell’s will lease to other businesses.

“This is the best way to revitalize the city,” Anthony Sanzio, Campbell’s vice president for global communications, said just before the demolition began. While he recognizes the historic value of the building, he said, “it has outlived its usefulness.”

Campbell has already removed key architectural elements including the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. sign and pieces from the front of the building. They are planning to include these in a memorial of some type, and are working with the city on the logistics. But the company also has big plans for the site, and they hope the office park will create new jobs and stimulate economic growth for Camden.

“Today is about the future and looking ahead,” Sanzio said, “not looking back nostalgically at the past.”

As the wrecking crew began its work, Susan Hyland was able to get one last picture on an iPad.

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