Crosstown Concourse: A Destination for Families
By Robin Gallaher Branch
Enormous! That’s a first impression of Crosstown Concourse. Once known as the Sears Tower, Crosstown Concourse in Memphis is fast becoming a must-see.
“At least 3,000 people visit daily,” said Lily Anderson, exhibitions administrative assistant.
The old Sears, Roebuck and Company warehouse and distribution center at Cleveland and North Watkins in Midtown has been refurbished into a multi-purpose destination. The 1.5 million square foot facility varies from two to 13 stories; levels seven through 10 are apartments. Recurring colors are bright orange, classy chrome, and accent gray.
“People living here say they seldom leave,” said Laura Daum, public programming coordinator.
Built in stages starting in 1927, the structure closed in the 1990s and re-opened in 2017, repurposed for mixed-use development and shiny-new for a new century. In 2013 it received designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
Crosstown attracts people from YMCA members at 5 a.m. to taproom loyalists who close down an adjacent brewery at 10 p.m. The four-story garage provides free parking. Valet service is available for $5. “We usually get a $2 tip,” an attendant grinned.
Ground level businesses include multiple eateries (hamburger, chicken, salads), grocery store, and specialty snack and dessert shops (Lucy J’s Bakery, Juice Bar, and Mempops, which specializes in fruit and cream popsicles).
Tory Lang, a middle school science teacher in Shelby County Public Schools, had “something blueberry” at the Juice Bar. “It was good. Fruity,” she said. People carry colored drinks as they stroll throughout the Concourse. Dogs on leashes and their owners visit as well.
Church Health, an organization providing health services to those with little or no access to healthcare, occupies much of the first floor. It offers popular cooking classes. Eye, chiropractic, and dental offices are above on various levels. A workout at the YMCA begins after a climb of 25-plus stairs to the second floor.
Another impression is noise; voices echo off the concrete floor and up the open glass atrium for seven floors. Lights sparkle around one vertical atrium. Brightly colored pinwheels dangle nearby in another atrium.
Historic reminders are scattered throughout. Wooden and steel freight trolleys show what the distribution center was like decades ago. A metal and wood dolly has VICTORY carved on the inside left handle. A four-door revolving door of wood, screen, and metal, now stationary, makes one wonder how many thousands of times it welcomed workers and customers. Old Sears signage decorates a wall, making a perfect photoshoot.
A magnificent red spiral staircase with high metal sides and tawny-colored wooden steps winds to the second floor. Children love it and pose like pros for pictures. “The paint was specially mixed for Crosstown,” Daum added.
Jacob Burgess, 13, stretched across multiple orange cushions at the theater/library on second floor. “I’m homeschooled,” he said. “Everybody here knows me. My parents run Lucy J’s.” Sometimes he serves as its cashier. He recommended the chocolate cupcake, with white icing and Oreo crumbs on top.
Quality Memphis institutions like Rhodes College, Christian Brothers University, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are present at Crosstown. Ongoing art exhibits routinely change throughout the complex.
The first floor Global Café features cuisine by refugees from Sudan, Syria, and Nepal. The cooks cheerfully offer samples. A family of four can budget a dinner for $35, said Juan Viramontes, general manager.
A Global Café first timer, Alex Karimnia, exclaimed, “I was blown away!” He had tabbouleh and kabobs and called the baklava “incredible.” Hailing from a Middle Eastern background, he particularly liked the kabobs because of the parsley. As he left, he waved a typical first impression: “I’ll be back!”
Robin Gallaher Branch, a Fulbright scholar, serves as an adjunct professor at Christian Brothers University in Memphis. She writes for newspapers and magazines.