|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
|Products||clothing, footwear, housewares, sporting goods, hardware, toys, electronics, groceries|
White Front was a chain of discount stores in Southern California and the western United States from 1959 through the mid-1970s. They were noted for the architecture of their store fronts which was an enormous, sweeping archway with the store name spelled out in individual letters fanned across the top. The chain also ran Topps, a similar discount store with locations in the American Midwest.
The name White Front was said to refer to the practice of lining up appliances like washers, dryers and stoves in front of the store, giving it a "White Front." Another feature of each store was that each had a separate key booth located in the parking lot.
The company was founded in 1929 in Los Angeles and opened its first store at 7651 S. Central Ave. Their second store open in October 1957 at 16040 Sherman Way in Van Nuys. In April 1959, the two stores were acquired by Interstate Department Stores, Inc., which expanded the chain to other California locations and broadened its retail mix beyond the original housewares. In September 1960, Interstate also acquired Topps, which at the time had ten stores. For several years, White Front was the leading discount store in the United States.
Entering the Portland Market
In 1970, the company made an abortive attempt to expand into Oregon at the Mall 205 in Portland, Oregon. A television ad campaign to introduce the store featured Allen Ludden of Password fame (most store openings were promoted by Hollywood stars). The Portland store failed largely due to complications with coordinating sale ads printed in Southern California with deliveries of the advertised merchandise to Portland. White Front lacked a distribution warehouse outside of California, which caused logistics problems. Frustrated by the inability to buy advertised specials at the remote suburban store, traffic diminished, numerous complaints were filed, and the store closed in 1974.
Entering the Puget Sound Market
White Front entered the Seattle/Tacoma market of Washington State October 19, 1967 with the North Seattle location in a 155,000 square foot building and a parking lot with a 1,000 vehicle capacity. The grand opening was hosted by the stars of Petticoat Junction, Howard Duff, and the former Miss Washington of 1958, Sharon Vaughn (who was known as Miss White Front for the opening). It was televised live for three hours on KING-TV. Four additional stores were built in high-traffic areas in Burien, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Everett. All but the Everett location were all closed by January 19 of 1973 (along with locations in Northern California and Oregon). The last White Front ad appeared in The Seattle Times on December 9, 1972. The Everett and Portland stores remained open (the only two locations to remain open outside of California) while the remaining stores' merchandise was liquidated until February 1973. According to a December 14 article in The Seattle Times, the company stated that "the five stores hadn't begun to turn a profit". Due to the struggling economy of the "Boeing Bust" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, this could have played a role in the downturn of the chain in the area as well as the lack of a local distribution center. Three of the four closed stores were acquired by Weisfields to become Valu-Mart/Leslie's stores by the end of 1973. The grocery sections were leased to Associated Grocers. The Tacoma White Front store has seen many ownership changes: first as a Valu-Mart/Leslie's store (acquired in February 1973), later a Jafco and then a Best store (currently Michael's). The Burien store became the flagship store for Valu-Mart/Leslie's (currently Fred Meyer). It was acquired from White Front in February 1973. The Burien location is one of the larger Fred Meyer stores in the chain. The North Seattle store became a Kmart (closed in January 2013). The Everett store (appears to have remained opened until the company's complete liquidation in 1974 according to Everett Mall leasing records) was integrated into Everett Mall in 1977 to become a Bon Marché and then Macy's. The Bellevue store was acquired by Valu-Mart/Leslie's as well in November 1973 and became a Fred Meyer as well. The towering store signs used for their locations remain visible at the North Seattle and Tacoma sites.
Another cause for their failure in the area could have been that the stores were too close to competing discount chains such as Gov-Mart/Baza'r, Valu-Mart, and House of Values which had a stronger presence in the area, and were locally owned.
Stores that were built before 1970 contained a "Discount Foods" grocery store department. People complained of high prices in the grocery section (probably caused by the lack of a local food distribution center, poor purchasing, and other logistics problems). Safeway Inc. took ownership of the grocery section in some markets, while newer-design stores such as those in Everett and Bellevue that were built without the arch also did not have a grocery store.
In 1966, Interstate acquired the four-store Washington D.C. toy store chain Children's Supermart, predecessor of Toys "R" Us, which is the only survivor of the company. White Front filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and then went out of business; the locations were changed to Two Guys, another discount chain. Two Guys soon failed as well and the stores became relabeled as FedMart stores, which eventually were purchased by Target. The Target store in San Bernardino, California sported the archway across its facade for many years until a recent remodeling.
The White Front store on California Avenue in Bakersfield, California, was taken over by Zody's also a store in Long Beach, California. Later it was purchased and remodeled by Mervyns, which also soon went out of business.
A number of independent local pharmacies continue to carry the White Front name in Costa Mesa and elsewhere, having inherited it from their former host stores, but are otherwise unrelated.
- "President Is Selected By Interstate Stores". New York Times, November 9, 1968, Page 53. Link via ProQuest.
- White Front - Under the Familiar Arch, Pleasant Family Shopping.
- "White Front Stores Note 34th Birthday". Torrance Herald, April 25, 1963, Page 8.
- "White Front Set to Open Ninth Store". Torrance Herald, May 16, 1963, Page 38.
- "White Front Salutes the San Fernando Valley". Van Nuys Valley News, August 29, 1961, page 45.
- Interstate Department Stores Inc., Lehman Brothers Collection, Twentieth Century Business Archives, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, 2010.
- White Front, Memories, Torrance High School Class of 1973.
- "Handleman in Separation with White Front," Billboard, June 29, 1974, p. 3.
- Seattle Times October 19, 1967[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times, December 19th 1972[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times February 2, 1973[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times December 14th 1972[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times December 19, 1972[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times February 6, 1973[title missing][page needed]
- Seattle Times November 11 1973[title missing][page needed]
- Toys "R" Us, Inc., Reference for Business]
- White Front building at 2222 Harbor Blvd, Anaheim California — a very early White Front store.
- White Front building at Everett Mall, Everett, Washington — after remodeling into a Bon Marche store, retaining modern 1970 White Front facade (without the arch).