R.I.P. Sears

Numerous Sears stores have closed nationwide, more are in the process, and still more (all?) are soon to come. The one in Norman’s mall shuttered earlier this year. A friend posted earlier today about the one closing in his city soon. They are but the latest corporate dominoes to fall in the digital era, where online sales increasingly dominate, and where physical chains that can’t or won’t adapt their anachronistic business models are toppling, one after another.

So it goes. In capitalism, as it should work, clinging inertially to bad practices, lack of executive foresight, pissing off a lot of your customer base, and/or other forms of mismanagement, can doom the company. That is, unless you’re Bank of America, Citigroup, GM, AIG, etc., some Bush/Obama-era Beltway suits and ties deem you “too big to fail”, and the government unconstitutionally bails you out with taxpayer billions.

[Internal to government, clinging to bad models, lack of executive foresight, and/or mismanagement often are rewarded by pay-band increases or promotions, but that’s another story.]

Sears rightfully isn’t getting the Goldman Sachs bailout treatment, so…it shall perish. [Cue Ivan Drago: “If he dies, he dies.”]

Still, I’ll have some good memories of Sears. I grew up near a stand-alone, two-story store in Dallas, which was located at Ross and Henderson, on a site now occupied by a strip mall and Fiesta supermarket. We couldn’t afford much there, but it was a great place for my mom and I to get into some air conditioning (as we had none at home) and to see how the “other half” lived. It even had escalators. Escalators!

Occasionally they’d put on a deep clearance sale on clothing, and if the garments fit and we had a few bucks with us, we’d get some. That represented the rare occasion when I had new clothes; mostly we got what we wore from yard sales, thrift stores, church handouts, and throw-away piles. That Sears also had a candy shop next to the car-care center (clever!) and garden store. We couldn’t afford a car to take there for service, but on just a few occasions she treated me to a measured bag of candy or a chocolate malt. Good memories…

Below is a photo from sometime in the 1960s, of the East Dallas Sears that was built in 1947. I don’t know who shot it. But from 1970s/early-’80s familiarity alone, I know the view is from a sidewalk on the NE side of Henderson St. (Henderson and Ross each are oriented 45 degrees off true north), looking north. The main part of the store is at left, the garden center at right, and the auto center was on the other side of the same wing as the garden center. Ross Ave. is unseen at left. Greenville Ave (oriented true N-S) is behind these buildings. The entire lot was a big triangle formed by Greenville, Ross and Henderson. The candy store was inside that notch where the auto/garden wing attached to the main store.

As for the one in Norman, it’s where I signed up collegiately for my first credit card: a Discover, which is still my primary card today. Discover was started by Sears’ Dean Witter financial division that year, and was the first no-fee, “cash-back” card. I’m probably one of the original 10,000 or so cardholders.

Sears’ Craftsman tools were well-built, too; chances are you’ll find Sears versions in garages 100 years from now, still used and useful. I’ve got a few that my dad obtained secondhand…probably made in the ’60s and early ’70s. I’ve been cutting steep slopes on acreage for 12 years with the same Craftsman push mower, just replacing blades.

Walk around any sizeable early/middle 20th-century neighborhood, and chances are you’ll encounter a Sears house: a home built to specs with floor plans and materials supplied via Sears catalog, delivered onsite and constructed by the owner or local contractors. There were some in East Dallas; there are some on old areas of Norman.

The legacy of Sears won’t go away for a very long time, even as we witness the final, feeble gasps of the company today. R.I.P. Sears.


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