On a vacation break watching Buzzer TV, I happened to watch a few of the Concentration Game Shows with Alex Trebek in the 1980’s and you could win a beautiful diamond necklace from Service Merchandise. I did not know diamonds where part of their catalog showroom. Lucille Ball was a regular advertising the jewelry from Service Merchandise on commercials; including many other stars. The Chicagoland area had 24 stores. My first experience was at Lakehurst Mall in Waukegan in the 1980’s where I bought a phone answering machine! They were located in Orland, Berwyn, Deerfield to name just a few. Originally opening in 1934 as a small five and dime then became a catalogue showroom 1960 in Nashville founded by Harry and Mary Zimmerman. Service Merchandise was also a prominent sponsor of Wheel of Fortune.
In the mid 1990s, the hand-filled paper forms were replaced with barcoded pull tags placed on/near each item in the showroom. For non-jewelry orders, customers would enter the showroom and receive a carbon-paper order form and clipboard to record the catalog numbers of desired items The jewelry department was in the center of the store operating on a first come basis. Items were displayed in working order in the showroom, allowing customers to test products as they shopped.
This was changed in the late 1980’s with computer kiosks and changed again in the 1990’s where there was touch screen serives. However, a recession would slow business even further. Places like Circuit City and Best Buy began to take over as well discount options which included Walmart andTarget.
They also tried drive through windows but that didn’t work finally closing the largest catalog retail empire in 2001 due to bankruptcy and disappearing catalog business. It had reached its peak in 1994 with over 4 billion in sales.