Saturday, March 08, 2008

Vintage Caldor; New Britain, Connecticut

Caldor; New Britain, Connecticut. Fall 1991.

If there's one thing we had hoped for following our appearance in the media recently, it's the expansion of scope The Caldor Rainbow reaches -- to all realms, specifically outside the internet. While the net has allowed us to grasp our audience and resources, many valuable readers may not be entirely accustomed or second-nature to the internet and all that lurks within. As with the passing of time, most of the best objects to unearth come in the form of physical rather than digital, before technology made it so easy to mass produce. These gems, with the help of this very technology, can now be preserved and showcased to the world.

That's when one of our newfound readers, Jim, contacted us. Jim, among many others who saw our print article sought us out and decided to share stories and memorabilia, some of which have participated on various topics here at The Caldor Rainbow.

Jim worked at the New Britain store for almost 15 years; from June 24, 1985 until the final, sorrowful day: March 15, 1999, which he describes as a day he will not forgot. Jim, enthused about Caldor, has taken many photos over the ages, now stowed away -- many of which of his late, great store and others around the state has sent us a sampling of these amazing photos of one such long-gone Caldor store in New Britain, Connecticut.

And who knows, seeing as this was the store I came to as a young'n, Jim and I probably met in passing at more than one time.

Caldor opened its New Britain location on Farmington Avenue in celebration of the 21st Anniversary; the 21st store on November 16, 1972. The bizarre, stucco-wall-to-wall 84,000 square foot bunker was well recognized as one of the most unusual looking retail complexes featuring well-known, geometric design traits: a "swept wing" or parallelogram-slanted facades over the triangular entrances as well as the unveiling of the eternal "rainbow" company emblem.

Today, it lives on as the site of Wal-Mart, a succeeding retailer who snatched up many former Caldor locations across the state.

Stores modeled after this one later opened in Southington and West Hartford-Elmwood among others in 1973. Sadly, the West Hartford-Elmwood store, which was the last one remaining, was celebrated with our recent Hartford Courant story, has since been dismantled, soon to become home to a Price-Rite supermarket.

Towards the end of the chain's life, slipping to financial quicksand, many stores built during the rapid expansion years of the 1970s never quite received their upgrades and renovations like other stores. In this case, the sad, neglected New Britain store was just one of a few in the central Connecticut region which doned the earthy rainbow-eras up until March 1999 -- complete with a cracked roadside sign and withering, falling shards of stucco.

And if that's not bad enough, Jim kept the giant "C" and "O" of the former building signage -- after they came crashing down. A sonic symbol of The End of Caldor.

We greatly appreciate Jim's photos: the title and road sign photos were both taken Fall 1991, from Jim's personal collection as the other, from The New Britain Herald is from the late 1970's, roughly a few years after the store opened. And my, look how the facade is already showing weathering damage, even worse by the 90's! Also notice how they changed the building-side lettering -- but not much else over the years.

Enjoy the photos, we hope to share more in the near future. In the meantime, go check out our premium Connecticut store locator.


Anonymous said...


Good photos!

That's some rare stuff right there, still one of my favorite Caldor logos out of all of them.

greg8370 said...

Little nuggets like that pic of a previously forgotten entrance is what makes the "hunt" worthwhile.
Any idea what that was for? Auto center/seasonal shop?

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

This was my Caldor -- but I only remember it as far back as the 1990s. The plaza was plenty ratty and run down by this time (especially the now gone IGA in the plaza over). The corner where the additional entrance was what my contact Jim claims, patched up in the mid-80s to cut down on apparent theft. If you don't know New Britain too well, you might not know it can be a troubled city where criminal activity breeds more than most towns. Farmington Avenue isn't bad at all, so you can probably expect some barometer of the rest of the city.

The Wal-Mart, which is here now, has almost full-time parking lot security which is very rare for Wal-Mart.

Getting back to what I know about that entrance, it was later used as the toy department, which noticable indent in the wall where there might've been doors. Then, they moved toys to the diagonal opposite side of the store.

This area was also where Lawn & Garden was adjacent (next door to toys), so there's a thought, Greg. Being a Bradlees man yourself, how well do you remember competitor Caldor?

Anonymous said...

Oh my...what a great find. This is the Caldor I went to as a very small kid just before the Newington store opened in 1994. I remember the drive from Newington to New Britain. It took forever to get there (at least to a 4 year old). I was excited to see the rainbow logo on the building. I forgot what most of the inside looked like, but it was very dated by the early 90s. I was always curious as to what it would be like to go through the "swept wing". It was surely unique. Back when Wal Mart took over the building in 2001, I remember that Wal Mart being very small. It was hard to walk around the aisles.

greg8370 said...

Oddly what I remember best about Caldor ("mine" was the in in Groton) comes not as a competitor but as a customer.
They had the best record sales (LP's) of anyone else at the time. Use to load up my collection big time there on Sundays when they advertised them on sale. I'll send you a pic.
As a competitor the thing I noticed most about the Groton store was (a) they had a separate employee entrance to the right of the front doors, (b) the bathrooms were in the lobby, (c) the service desk was on the right as you walked in and thus behind the employee entrance and quite a distance from the checkout registers which were to the left as you walked in. So when a cashier needed "help" from the service desk the help wasn't always immediate and they always and I mean always had lines at the front end there. So as a competitor I was happy about that. As a customer I always checked out my LPs in the record department since it had it's own register.
The Groton store location was not the best and we never really worried too much about it although having a supermarket in the plaza helped them.

Anonymous said...

This is a question for Greg:

Do you remember when the Groton Caldor closed?

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

The Groton Caldor announced closure in March 1996, it was the only Connecticut store to close that year following downsizing from the Chapter 11 squeeze. They were closed up late Spring/early Summer, at the earliest.

More news regarding that one, since Pfizer is downsizing, this could mean they are shuttering their "Kings Heights Facility" or the property that holds the state's final remaining Caldor. Keep me updated on that one.

greg8370 said...

Nick's right about the closing date. Pfizer will still have a presence in Groton; they're not leaving altogether and they've spent money at that location but it's worth noting.
Drove by there the other day and it looked busy.

Anonymous said...

I love the oldness and graininess and black and white-ness of those photos.

And, I finally know what a Caldor with the "rainbow logo" looks like.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the both of you!

Anonymous said...

Those swept wings remind of Venture, which is no doubt intentional.

autoprt said...

i remember working here the summer of '82 before attending college.
it was a nice store and the people were very nice, i was sorry to leave, i worked in the gift section and my boss' name was Mr. Baba.

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On that times that was a really great news because people had money but right now it's kind of hard for many people to buy something or even travel, if you wanna do it you need to live alone and have a good salary.

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