Sears & Roebuck was never a blood relative, but that iconic store was part of my family and my life.
I tried to find my first C-chord on a cheap Silvertone guitar. I fished for bass with J.C. Higgins rods and reels. We had Kenmore refrigerators in the kitchen and down in the basement my Daddy stored all kinds of Craftsman equipment in his toolbox.
Their brands were our brands and none of us could have ever imagined a world without Sears. But the end came Monday. The retail giant from another era filed for bankruptcy leaving old school shoppers wondering what happened and younger ones saying so what.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise really. Here in Columbus we saw it coming when Sears closed its doors at Columbus Park Crossing at the same time the parent company was padlocking its K-mart stores in the area.
Sears had simply lost its appeal.
Clothing was dull and overpriced. Appliances could be bought at reasonable prices in other stores. Sporting goods, auto repairs and tools were no longer a Sears specialty.
It’s easy to blame Amazon and online shopping but long before the power of the Internet, Sears fell far behind its competitors as an attractive, up-to-date place to shop.
It continued to look very much like the store in which my parents shopped so long ago.
Growing up in Atlanta, the largest Sears store I ever saw was on Ponce de Leon Avenue, right across from the Atlanta Cracker baseball stadium. It was an adventure just to go inside. Later, one was built in West End, near my old neighborhood. It was the same pattern here. The original store was on Broadway. When Columbus Square was built, the store moved to the mall.
Its final resting place was Columbus Park Crossing.
Then there was the catalogue. As a child it was kept right by the family Bible. We looked forward to getting our copy of the main edition every year and at our house it was always a well-read book. As a kid, it contained my wish list. Things you might never own were right there in the catalogue for you to dream about.
And you didn’t need wi-fi or a cursor.
Inside that book were pre-fab homes, bust enhancers, headstones, bifocals and medicinal products to cure every ailment known to man —without prescriptions too. (And for the adolescent boys there were those ads for women’s under clothing.)
When I went into a Sears store, it was like the catalogue had come to life. I didn’t understand it then but that department store catalogue had become part of democracy and our way of life. The government even sent copies to American soldiers at the front during World War II to give them a taste of home.
Artist Norman Rockwell created early covers and Edgar Rice Burroughs — the creator of Tarzan — wrote ad copy. Baseball Hall of Fame member Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox helped the store sell sporting goods and for a long time Sears sponsored legendary cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ weekly TV show.
The catalogue finally went away in 1993, and Sears was never the same after that. Pretty soon, there was a Wal-Mart on just about corner and we found other places to shop. Instead of using those big fat catalogues that the mailman brought to our doorstep several times a year, we plugged in our laptops. To survive, the store sold off its iconic brands one by one.
Now it’s gone and I must confess: I won’t miss the store very much, just the childhood memories, especially the excitement of the days that the postman brought us our very own catalogue.