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Remember the good old days of catalog showrooms? What, you say, is a catalog showroom? Simply, it was a retail location that also had a big printed catalog, sort of like Sears, that people ordered out of, too. And, probably the big one in town was Witmark.

Witmark was a catalog showroom and jewelry/electronics chain that operated here in Grand Rapids and West Michigan from 1969 to 1997. The local chain was founded by Paul Leven. I loved Witmark, and the Leven’s ran wonderful stores with great low prices. We bought many things there over the years. And, over its nearly 30-year history, Witmark dominated the jewelry market with an average of a 34% market share. But, by the early 1990s, Witmark’s was losing it’s share of retail, outside of jewelry. Big box stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys “R” Us, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and MC Sports captured the electronics, toy, and sports markets respectively and more effectively than Witmark could.

The hand writing was on the wall, and in 1997, Witmark liquidated its assets and laid off its 700+ employees. Like the larger national chains of catalog showrooms (such as Best Products), the retail concept collapsed in the late 1990s due to overwhelming competition from big box stores and Internet shopping.

We miss you, Witmark.

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