An illustrated history of Livingston County department stores – here’s when each of them opened

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As of this writing, there are 11 major department stores in Livingston County – five in Brighton, three in Howell, two in Hartland and one in Fowlerville.

Fifty years ago, there were none.

Not counting the D&C-type stores which we’ve had in our downtowns, the Department Store Era in Livingston County truly began in September of 1971, when W.T. Grant opened at the new Brighton Mall.

It was a slow slog after that, but three more department stores opened in the 1980s, three more came along in the 1990s, and then we welcomed eight more in the 2000s.

It’s slowed down since then. By our reckoning, Livingston County hasn’t had a new department store open in 10 years.

Here, then, is the official History of Livingston County Department Stores. Some of these are still around, while others (we’re looking at you, Ames) are long gone.

Here’s the roll call:

The restaurant at Brighton’s new W.T. Grant department store in 1971. This later became the beloved Kmart Diner when the building became a Kmart in 1976.

W.T. Grant, Brighton – 1971

Livingston County’s first department store opened in 1971 as part of the brand-new Brighton Mall. It featured a little of everything, including a restaurant. Alas, Grant’s didn’t even last five years, closing up shop in early 1976.

The scene in 1976.

Kmart, Brighton – 1976

Once Grant’s closed up, it didn’t take long for the Brighton Mall to find a new tenant for the space. Kmart opened up in the old Grant’s location in the Bicentennial Year of 1976, and was a Livingston County staple for decades. It became a Sears store once Kmart and Sears merged, and eventually closed up shop a few years ago.

Big Wheel, Howell – 1981

Howell’s first true department store was Big Wheel, which opened in 1981 on Grand Rive Avenue in Genoa Township, just east of town. It closed up shop in 1991, right after Walmart came to town.

Getting ready for the opening of Brighton’s Meijer store in 1982.

Meijer, Brighton – 1982

Brighton was still a sleepy little burg in 1982 when the Meijer Corporation took a chance on the community by opening a relatively small store on Grand River Avenue. Brighton eventually began to boom, and so did Meijer. The store underwent a huge expansion, and it’s still going strong today.

Ames, Howell – 1988

This place was located just a few hundred yards away from Big Wheel, and both stores had the same look and feel. They both had a red theme, and they both carried the same type of merchandise. They also both closed in 1991. Ames holds the record for the shortest tenure of any Livingston County department store, although W.T. Grant and the Hartland Walmart aren’t far behind.

Walmart, Howell – 1991

Livingston County joined the Walmart ranks in 1991, when the original location opened in Genoa Township. It was a smaller store across Grand River from the current location, and it was a hit right from the start.

Target, Brighton – 1994

Happy anniversary! Brighton’s Target store opened 25 years ago this month, in October of 1994. It was a HUGE event in the community, featuring fireworks, an appearance by a famous soap-opera star (Brad Maule of “General Hospital”) and more. The Target opening was a seminal moment in Brighton’s history, because it truly paved the way for all the big-box stores, hotels and retail developments which have come to the community since then.

Twenty years ago – getting ready for the opening of the new Meijer store in Howell.

Meijer, Howell – 1999

The locals thought it was odd that Meijer would want to open another store in Livingston County just five miles or so west of the original store in Brighton. But the Genoa Township Meijer was a hit from the beginning, and 20 years later, it’s still one of the most popular department stores in the county.

Kohl’s, Howell – 2003

We got our first Kohl’s in 2003, when this store opened across the street from Meijer in Genoa Township. 

Costco, Brighton – 2004

Another watershed moment in Livingston County’s retail history. It’s hard to believe that the intersection of Lee Road and U.S. 23 in Green Oak Township used to be a sleepy little place, but that was the case before the Double Roundabouts came along. Now we have huge shopping centers and stores on both sides of U.S. 23, none bigger than Costco, the bargain behemoth that changed shopping in Livingston County as we know it.

Kohl’s, Brighton – 2005

Costco’s neighbor in Green Oak Township opened just a few months later, giving Livingston County its second Kohl’s store.

Target, Hartland – 2006

While Brighton started booming in the 1980s, Hartland’s boom began in the 2000s, when we saw three huge department stores open in a span of three years. It all began in 2006, when Target came to M-59.

J.C. Penney, Brighton – 2007

One of America’s most iconic department stores finally game to Livingston County in 2007, when the J.C. Penney store opened at Green Oak Village Place. It remains as one of the anchors of the “roundabout mall.”

Walmart, Fowlerville – 2008

Could Livingston County’s smallest community support a huge department store like Walmart? The answer has been a resounding yes. Life in the ‘Ville as we knew it changed in 2008 when Walmart came to town, and it’s been a staple ever since.

Meijer, Hartland – 2009

On the heels of Target’s opening in Hartland in 2006, Meijer opened its third Livingston County store in 2009. The store is still going strong today, and it’s no doubt been helped by the Hartland Road reconfiguration that basically takes motorists through the Meijer parking lot if they’re heading north off M-59.

Walmart, Hartland – 2009

In the same year that Meijer opened in Hartland, a new Walmart opened across the street. Alas, this one didn’t last long. It closed in January of 2016, giving way to the new behemoth Rural King store that currently occupies the site.

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