Sears, I remember when you had a last name.
One morning last month I was sitting in my office when the phone rang. It was a reporter from a local TV station wanting an, on camera, interview about the closing of Sears. Although, the Port Arthur Sears was not on the list of immediate closings, I agreed to an appointment. I grabbed my hat, climbed into my truck, lit up a cigar and headed north. On the way, the memory of my first encounters, with Sears and Roebuck, took me back to the past. I remembered when, as a boy, out in the woods of East Texas, the Sears and Roebuck catalog arrived in the mail. My grandfather always referred to it as the Sears and Rareback” catalog. The products shown on those pages went beyond what a person might purchase. They transported an entire nation to the future. These pages were the first time new styles and inventions were seen by many folks. Amazing items like, electric can openers, coffee pots, electric stoves and vacuum cleaners. As a youngster I had to wait until the adults had finished perusing the pages. I would listen to the gasps and exclamations of, “Wow, would you look at that! What will they think of next? If we just had electricity the vacuum cleaner would be nice to suck the dirt from the rough wood floors.” There was speculation as to how curtains would spruce up the house, if a little extra money could be found. New dish patterns, of flowers and beautiful abstract designs, were wished for to replace the old, chip and crack, design most people used. A set of matching dishes, including cups, saucers, salad plates, dinner plates, serving dishes were almost unheard of in the country. Most newlyweds had picked up odds and ends from relatives or collected them one at a time from dishwashing soap. The women looked, longingly, at the new fashions and dreamed of how they would look, dressed up, in these newfangled city clothes, going to the ball. Some dreamed of the luxury of having a machine that washed the clothes and had a wringer that would get some of the water out before hanging them on a line, outside, in the sun, to dry.
After the adults finished, the kids gathered to look at the toy section. A few of the wayward boys would sneak a peek at the bra section, hoping to get a glimpse of a woman in underwear. Of course, I never did that. Little girls would cut out the underwear models and dresses, making instant paper dolls. Tools and mechanized tillers caught the attention to those that had labored, long, behind a plow or used a hoe, rake and shovel to prepare the garden each year.
For months the catalog would be left out. It had many uses. Standing on it allowed shorter family members to reach the top shelf or placing it in the highchair to lift the new baby. The end, to the old edition, was marked by the arrival of the new catalog. The old edition might be retired to the outhouse or torn up to be used to start a fire in the stove. The Sears and Roebuck catalog was more than advertising, it was a portal from one generation to the next. A glimpse into the future and a source of dreams and what could be. It provided incentive to do better so, one day, just maybe, you could get that, wished for, item.
Back in the present, I gave 10 second sound bites, about the economic impact of Sears closing. I also spoke of the personal impact on the employees. Some were elderly and had been in retail their whole lives. While many jobs are available in America, many, of those jobs, are in the construction or technical field. Most of the retail employees are too far alone in their lives to shift their career paths to that type of work. I talked about loss of sales taxes and the difficulty in finding a use for such a large building. Like the employees, the building had spent its life as a retail establishment attached to a large enclosed mall. Malls, such as this, have been suffering for years under the onslaught of on-line shopping and the switch to walk up malls or stand-alone facilities. In the case of Sears their path, to bankruptcy, was accelerated due to bad management at the top. Sears Holding Company is the parent company of Kmart and Sears. They got away from their core customers and tried to be everything to everybody. Just like people, companies that do this, usually end up pleasing no one. Sears failed to keep what was working and failed to find an effective way of competing for on-line shoppers. Their products, at one time, were some of the best available, but over the years that, too, was no longer true. Finally, on October 15, Sears, filed bankruptcy. Another American standard fell to a changing market and bad leadership. As I said, the only good thing, from my point of view, is, at this time, Port Arthur Sears is not on the closing list.
All the above is sad but the real loss, to me, and a lot of old people, is the loss of a piece of history. A part of our childhood is no longer. The interview done, I go on about my day, a little sadder at the loss of an old friend.