February 23, 2017

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

The death knell seems to have begun for Sears.

Sears, Roebuck & Company and I go back a long ways. When I was a kid, the annual arrival of the Sears catalog (and most importantly, the toy section) was an annual sign that Christmas was coming. My sister and I would take turns with it, putting cryptic notes beside things we wanted. There was an art to it - often a particular brand or type of toy would have multiple choices from low cost to extravagant, and we'd carefully gauge our preferences based on what we might have a chance of getting.

Oftentimes, simply looking at the toys and imagining owning them was more fun than actually having them!

And as a young, proto-trans kid, the dresses and women's clothing pages of the Sears catalog were an accessible, and fairly risk free read - I could quickly flip over to the toys if I were caught in a bit of wishful reverie.

Later on, Sears Auto Center became my go-to place for tires, batteries, and simple car repairs. My Sears charge card was the first consumer credit I had (in college, maybe in high school on the basis of my fast food job) and it was a little financial relief valve for bald tires, dead batteries, sketchy brakes on the junkers (an AMC Hornet, a Dodge Colt Vista) I drove back then, on a part-time, fast food income. I have clear memories of the Sears Auto Center waiting areas at the Natick Mall (MA), the Waterbury Mall (CT), and Corbins Corner (West Hartford).

When I got out of college and into my first apartment and first job, my Sears charge card bought a "Free Spirit" 10 speed bike, a Kenmore vacuum cleaner (which I finally let go in 2013, 30 years after I bought it). Probably some home electronics as well. It was the place to go for good old American value in the days before big box retailers and online shopping. Not the cheapest. But solid, reliable.

When I bought my first home, a 1930's cape in Waterbury with a lot of projects, Craftsman power tools and hand tools began to fill the basement, a Craftsman lawn mower cut the grass, and Sears tools to tend the garden, trim the hedges, water the lawn. I suspect a Kenmore washer and dryer were in the basement, although I'm not 100% sure on that one. I recall being thrilled when the first Home Depot opened in the area, and again when it came to Waterbury itself. And I spend a lot of time at Lowe's these days. But back then - it was invariably Sears and Craftsman. In fact, as I type this, there are two Craftsman tool boxes within eye shot, in nearly mint condition 30+ years later, and I could quickly dig out a Craftsman drill, a few power saws, a heat gun, and a full set of ratchets and wrenches.

Sears became a habit for other things. Eyeglasses, long before Lens Crafters. Basic clothes - Levi's and underwear and socks. Shoes (they hooked up with Lands End at some point). I've never been much of a clothes horse but even I knew that Sears was kind of stodgy and unfashionable; still I'd pick things up there now and then.

I closed charge account more than a decade ago; I think the last thing I bought from them was a Die-hard car battery for my old Saturn. It's been years since I've done any serious shopping there (or gone to a mall, for that matter).

I've seen a lot of retail come and go over the years - from Mailman's and Hill's department stores in York PA, to Bradlee's and Caldor's and Zayre when we moved to Massachusetts. Montgomery Ward. G Fox. Sage Allen. All gone. JC Penney (still with us). In some ways I am a child of retail - after a few years cutting his teeth at Univac, Dad spent his working life in the IT departments of McCrory (York, PA) and Zayre (Framingham, MA)

But something about Sears Roebuck and Co, and the brands associated with the company, sticks with me. I'm at an age where I am starting to lose things - parents, friends, celebrities, brands, stores. Although my changing shopping habits are probably part of the reason it's slowly dying, I shall be sorry to see Sears go....