PORTAGE PARK — When customers come into the Sears Key Shop, they often want more than just a new set of house keys.
If they are folks of a certain age, and grew up on the Northwest Side, they'll often spend the time waiting for the keys to be crafted by strolling down memory lane through the Six Corners Shopping District.
"They remember how they used to come here with their parents, and what it meant for them to get to come to Sears," said Dale Harris, who has operated the key shop for 43 years. "A lot of people have fond memories of Sears."
When Sears opened its store at Six Corners on Oct. 20, 1938, more than 99,500 customers poured into its aisles — which were the first to be air conditioned, according to news reports. Its huge display windows looking out onto Cicero and Milwaukee avenues were the largest in the Midwest, and drew shoppers from all over the city and suburbs.
"Part of what makes Six Corners unique is its history, and we want to celebrate that," said Ed Bannon, the executive director of the Six Corners Business Association.
To celebrate the 75-year milestone, Harris and other business owners are planning a celebration for Oct. 12 that includes a museum full of nostalgic memorabilia from the store's history, including photos, catalogs, advertisements and packaging.
"We want to collect people's memories and stories about the store," Harris said. "It is still a work in progress."
Many people have told Harris they especially miss the candy counter at Sears, with its seemingly limitless number of choices of candy, popcorn and soft pretzels.
"You would eat as you went around the store," Harris said. "You don't see that anymore."
As part of the celebration, The Filament Theatre Group has agreed to revise its "Crossing Six Corners: A Neighborhood Heritage Project" to highlight Sears' impact on Portage Park and the Portage Theater has agreed to show the same movie that was on the big screen in 1938.
In addition, Forgotten Chicago will offer a tour of the building.
Although Six Corners has struggled for decades, it was once the city's premier shopping destination, with dozens of stores offering shoppers their hearts' desire.
"It is somewhat of a ghost town now," Harris said. "If we can get Six Corners to come back, Sears will come back."
Ald. John Arena (45th) has been working to turn the area around Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues into an arts and culture Mecca that would draw people from all over the city with the promise of a show and dinner.
A city-commissioned master plan found the area around Six Corners must become more dense and pedestrian friendly to thrive.
For more information about the celebration or to donate memorabilia, go to the group's Facebook page.