Photos show how an abandoned Sears building transformed into a 'vertical village' of shops and apartments

Crosstown ArtsA staircase at the abandoned Sears Crosstown building.
  • After being left empty for nearly two decades, the Sears Crosstown building in Memphis has been transformed into a “vertical village.”
  • Sears occupied the building for nearly 70 years before it was forced to close its retail store and distribution center.
  • The transformed structure, known as Crosstown Concourse, honours the communal spirit of the old building while introducing a mixed-used environment of commercial, retail, and residential space.

For nearly 70 years, diners and shoppers flocked to the Sears Crosstown building in Memphis, a 640,000 square feet complex anchored by a Sears retail store and distribution center.

With its art-deco exterior and suburban location, the building signified the peak era of retail, when customers would flock to the space for hands-on shopping experiences or order from Sears catalogues.

By 1993, the building that had stood tall during the Great Depression and three major wars was entirely empty. Sears had shut down both the retail store and distribution center as demand for mail orders declined.


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The abandoned structure remained untouched for nearly two decades before a non-profit arts organisation pioneered its renaissance. The result, a mixed-use center called Crosstown Concourse, offers a “vertical village” of commercial, retail, and residential space.

Take a look inside the transformed building, which is up for a $US50,000 award for excellence in urban design.


The Sears Crosstown building opened in 1927 to around 35,000 people.

Crosstown ArtsThe site was dilapidated prior to its redevelopment in 2015.

In its prime, the building’s distribution center received tens of thousands of catalogue orders per day. Starting in the 1930s, Sears became known for its Christmas catalogue, or Wish Book, which contained hundreds of pages of bargain items.


When the building was abandoned in 1993, the retail giant left behind old television sets, record players, and name tags.

Crosstown ArtsOld television sets left behind from the Sears era.

The new developers also found time-sheets and an old menu listing Memphis classics like Barbecue ribs and cole slaw.


While the building stood empty, the Crosstown neighbourhood became more urban.

Crosstown ArtsThe Sears Crosstown building before its demolition.

The neighbourhood is located about two miles outside downtown Memphis, making it a natural extension of the city center. By 2010, however, there were still only a few businesses and studios in the area.


In 2010, a professor and a video artist had an idea to transform the complex.

Crosstown ArtsThe exterior of the renovated Crosstown Concourse building.

Todd Richardson, an art professor at the University of Memphis, and video artist Christopher Miner formed a non-profit organisation called Crosstown Arts, whose main purpose was to renovate the abandoned Sears building.


Richardson and Minor proposed a “vertical urban village” that would include residential and retail space, along with a contemporary arts center.

Crosstown ArtsThe grand opening of the Crosstown Concourse building.

The partners secured nearly40 founding tenants, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the local Crosstown High School.


Their project broke ground in February 2015.

Crosstown ArtsA communal area at the renovated site in 2017.

The Memphis City Council provided $US15 million to help finance the renovation.


The new site, which opened in 2017, includes apartments, restaurants, and commercial space.

Crosstown ArtsA public space in the ‘vertical village.’

It also has a pharmacy, grocery store, nail salon, and FedEx store. Its corporate tenants span multiple sectors, such as healthcare, arts, and education.


The building’s 265 apartments, known as The Parcels, feature exposed brick and wood floors from the original structure.

Crosstown ArtsA gathering space for the building’s residents.

The residential area includes community gathering spaces and indoor porches. Apartment prices typically range from $US1,400 to $US1,540 per month, with 20% of units being sold at “affordable” market rates.


Crosstown Concourse is now a finalist for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, which recognises designs that help transform American cities.

Crosstown ArtsResidents can select books from the walls.

The winner will receive $US50,000 to continue their design efforts. A committee of judges will announce their decision in June.

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