The store sold a wide variety of items obtained in fire sales, closeouts, bankruptcies, overstocks and customs seizures. They also sold items with small defects, “seconds” at large discounts.
The first store opened in 1965 in the Hingham Shipyard, where the warehouse buildings were numbered. Too cheap to replace the “Building 19” sign, owner Jerry Ellis instead used the building number as the business name and it stuck.
After opening a second store, Building 19 1/2 in Burlington, Ellis opened the Norwood store located in a 65,000 square foot building at 1450 Providence Highway and designated it Building 19 3/4.
Ellis used humor in signs inside the store as well as in sale circulars. The circulars had a comic book quality to them thanks to the artwork of Scituate cartoonist Mat Brown.
Signs both in and outside the store poked fun at the company, their products and sometimes even the customers.
Ellis proudly called Building 19 “America’s Laziest and Messiest Department Store.”
Part of the stores appeal was that you never knew what new thing you’d find on the shelves.
For husbands who were impatiently waiting for their wives, there was the “official husbands bench”.
The company gave away free coffee in cups that warned customers not to make fun of the taste because “someday you’ll be old and weak yourself!”.
The construction of many local WalMart and Target stores and the popularity of online shopping led to a decline in sales and after a decade of struggling, the company closed all the Building 19 stores in 2013.
In 2014, the Norwood and the Burlington stores were the final two locations to close after a short period of time as rug wholesalers.
The Norwood location was purchased in 2016 by GRE Norwood LLC and turned into Extra Space Storage.
Owner Jerry Ellis died on November 11, 2017. His daughter has written a paperback all about him and the company called “Good Stuff Cheap!: The Story of Jerry Ellis and Building #19, Inc”.