Sears. Where America Shopped.

Sears 1990s logo

The logo above is an old one.  It could also be how you last remember Sears.  If you're like a lot of Americans, you've moved on---found other places to buy what you need.  If you're under 35, you may never have shopped at Sears.  And if you're under 30, it may surprise you to learn that Sears was once, and for a long time, as big as they came.

Sears, then known as Sears, Roebuck and Company, was founded 125 years ago.  It offered Americans enormous convenience by putting pretty much everything (including its own brand of cars, Allstate) Americans could want or need under one roof of its enormous stores.  It was, in essence, the first big-box retailer.  

But it went that one better.  It also put everything into a catalog so people who didn't live near a physical Sears store could order by mail.  Think Amazon without the internet.  Four or five catalogs a year, including the one every kid in the world waited for all year---the Christmas Wish Book.   

From the mid-70s through the mid-80s, Sears' ad tagline was "Sears. Where America Shops".


 

In 1988, near the peak of its popularity, the Wish Book was more than 600 pages.  You can flip through that year's Wish Book here.   It would show up in October and you'd have a few weeks to lobby Mom and Dad for what you really, really, REALLY wanted before the deadline passed for sending in the order form by mail and having the package arrive by Christmas Eve.

But that was 30 years ago.  And the decline came soon after.   A mere four years and a few months after that big Wish Book of '88, Sears announced it was eliminating the catalogs, closing 113 stores and eliminating 50,000 (not a typo---fifty thousand) jobs.  

That initial damage was done by specialty big-box retailers.  Toys R Us (now a memory, though a comeback is reportedly being planned) ate Sears' lunch in the toy business (which used to be almost a quarter of Sears' Wish Books).  Home Depot cut up Sears' Craftsman tools sales.  And Walmart pretty well sucked the air out of the room for everything else.

And that was before the internet.  The last 25 years have been massively ugly times for what used to be known as the World's Largest Store (the initials of which became the call letters "WLS" for a radio station in Chicago that Sears once owned).   A merger in 2004 with KMart simply married two struggling stores. The last profitable year was 2010.  In those eight years since, Sears Holdings has gone from 3,500 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. to 687, including KMart.

This morning, Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  And it announced it will close 142 of the remaining stores, ten of which are in California---including the store on Florin Road in Florin.  Some KMarts are on the chopping block, too, including the one in Placerville and the one in Modesto.

Chapter 11 gives companies an opportunity to reorganize and stay in business, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Sears' biggest lenders want the company to liquidate instead.  So this could be the end of Sears---where America shopped.


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