Avant-Garde Retail: The Eye-Popping Properties Of Best Products

Best Products store, Towson, MD, 1976 (Photo: SITE Studios)

Lost to the mists of time, Best Products was a successful national retail chain operating 169 stores in 23 states, filing Chapter 11 in 1991. Founded in 1957, Best’s retailing recipe was a precursor to today’s big box floor plan, but the chain was owned by persons of singular vision who refused to actually build big boxes to house their stores. Instead, they built eye-popping works of art.

The MessyNessy post Lost Facades of the 1970s Anti-Walmart shows Best in its heyday — a collection of outrageous and provocative architecture that played with themes of destruction and chaos while somehow remaining inviting and successful. Best store facades had a merely casual relationship with right angles and gravity. Some portrayed the collapse of brick walls, some portrayed the lifting and tilting – as if made of cardboard and hoisted by the wind – of an entire store front measuring over 200 feet in width. And some invited forests into the floor plan, where trees grow to this day in one structure that survives today under new management. Maybe most surprising, these unforgettable designs were not clustered in the comsopolitan enclaves you might suspect, but were instead a national undertaking, with the chain headquarters in Richmond, VA.

For their vision, Best owners Sydney and Frances Lewis were awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1987.  You can browse the entire collection of photos at the SITE Studios, who originated most of the designs.

(Photo credit: SITE Studios)

 

2 Comments

  • Rick Buckendorf

    May 22, 2016

    Love original designs like these. True works of art!

    Reply
  • Michael Washington

    June 12, 2016

    I started my career at Best Products Corporate HQ in Richmond in 1982 – 1991 as Office Space Planner. While I did not have any input with the store design / construction at the time, the HQ office in itself was a treasure with art (Warhol’s, etc) strategically placed throughout and rotated in and out by the Lewis’s to the “Yellow Brick” that led one through out the entire building. What a truly inspiring workplace. Even the Exterior was stamped with the huge BEST letters overlooking I95

    Reply

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