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When the Sears Catalog Sold Everything from Houses to Hubcaps

When the Sears Catalog Sold Everything from Houses to Hubcaps



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Before there was Amazon.com, there was the Sears catalog. Founded as a mail-order watch company in the late 19th century, Sears, Roebuck and Company made its name with its swollen, jam-packed catalogs that advertised everything from underwear to entire house kits. Around the holidays, families across the country would circle items in its legendary “Wish Book.”

Sears' retail stores spread across the country and its sales stayed strong even during the Great Depression, as the company spawned now-famous brands like Kenmore, Craftsman and even Allstate Insurance.

But by the 1990s, Sears began to struggle as the company confronted competition from rival discount department stores like Kmart, Target, and Walmart, economic woes brought on by the Great Recession and the increasing dominance of e-commerce. After 132 years in business, former retail giant Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018, announcing it would close 142 unprofitable stores in the face of mounting competition from big-box stores and, of course, Amazon.com.

Sears started with watches.

The story of Sears begins in 1886, when a railroad station agent in Minneapolis, Minnesota named Richard Sears started selling gold watches at $14 apiece. The next year, he set up shop with watchmaker Alvah Roebuck on Dearborn and Randolph Streets in Chicago. With the help of investor Julius Rosenwald, who joined the firm in 1895, their mail-order watch business soon grew into a general mail-order firm that delighted customers with its thick catalogs packed full of everything from clothing to toys to household appliances.

'Cheapest Supply House on Earth

Early Sears catalogs billed themselves as the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth” or “the Book of Bargains,” and featured a mind-boggling array of products, including medical and veterinary supplies (pictured here), musical instruments, firearms, bicycles, sewing machines and baby buggies. By 1894, the page count of the catalog was 322 pages. Richard Sears, who wrote almost all of the catalog’s copy himself until his retirement in 1908, held to the motto “We Can’t Afford to Lose a Customer,” making sure that Sears stayed competitive in terms of price and value.

Customer service was key to early growth.

Sears’ simple, warm and customer-service-centered approach helped it stand out among mail-order competitors like Montgomery Ward and Hammacher Schlemmer. When Sears first sold stock to the public in 1906, the company was worth some $40 million, with close to $50 million in annual sales and around 9,000 employees. That same year, it built a distribution complex in Chicago with some 3 million square feet of floor space.

Sears house kits become a big seller.

Among the catalog giant’s astounding range of offerings were house kits, which the company began marking in 1908. The kits came in 447 different designs, from the grand “Magnolia” ($5,140 to $5,972) to the more humble, but popular “Winona” ($744 to $1,998). Sears advertised the kits with the promise that “We will furnish all the material to build this [house design]. All the parts arrived (usually by train) precut and ready to assemble. From 1908 to 1940, Sears sold between 70,000 to 75,000 homes.

Sears expanded by opening stores.

With the rise of the automobile, the mail-order boom in the United States slowed down, but Sears managed to stay successful by expanding consumer credit with its “No Money Down” policy and, in 1924, opening its first retail store in Chicago. More than 300 Sears stores would open across the country by 1929. After launching the Kenmore brand (appliances) and Craftsman brand (tools) during the 1920s, Sears even expanded into auto insurance, launching Allstate in 1931.

Profits didn't stop during the Great Depression.

Even in the depths of the Great Depression in 1931, Sears’ catalog, retail and factory profits totaled more than $12 million, or more than $201 million in 2018 dollars. That year marked the first year retail sales outstripped catalog sales. In 1932, the company opened its famous flagship store on State and Van Buren Streets in the Loop district of Chicago.

A business built on inexpensive essentials.

While traditional department stores (Marshall Field’s, Wanamaker’s) sold higher-end fashion, Sears had made its reputation selling less expensive but necessary items like socks, underwear, towels and bedding, which helped keep sales going even during the Depression. In fact, by the end of the 1930s, the number of Sears retail stores had nearly doubled, and in 1945 the company topped the $1 billion mark in sales for the first time.

Sears stores anchored shopping malls.

By the 1950s, Sears had opened more than 700 stores in the United States, and had expanded into Mexico and Canada, where it joined forces with a Canadian mail-order company and became Simpson-Sears. As shopping malls became ubiquitous across the nation, Sears stores served as familiar anchors, along with fellow chains like J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward.

The 'Wish Book' topped 600 Pages.

Sears issued its first Christmas catalog in 1933, featuring such must-have items as a Mickey Mouse watch, a Lionel electric train set, a “Miss Pigtails” doll and live singing canaries. In the decades that followed, the catalog would be adorned with Christmas scenes, even as its pages swelled. By 1968, when it was officially renamed the “Wish Book,” the catalog boasted 225 pages of toys and 380 pages of gifts for adults, for a grand total of 605 pages.

Competitors emerge in the 1960s.

The 1960s brought more competition, in the form of new discount department store chains like Target, Walmart and Kmart. Annual sales rose to $10 billion by the early ‘70s, and the company moved its headquarters into what was then the world’s tallest building, the Sears Tower in Chicago, in 1973. But its competitors were gaining ground, and by 1991 Sears had lost its crown as the nation’s top-selling retailer to Walmart.

The end of the Sears catalog era.

In 1993, Sears announced it was closing its catalog division, bringing to an end a storied era of mail-order bargain-hunting and wish fulfillment that had begun nearly a century earlier. Sears Tower sold in 1994, and the following year, Amazon.com shipped its first book. In 1998, the Sears Christmas catalog went online for the first time at Wishbook.com, a year before the Sears.com website was launched. Despite a brief return to profitability after a merger with Kmart in 2005, Sears continued to struggle. By the time it filed for bankruptcy, Sears had lost more than $11 billion since 2011, even after trying to cut costs by closing hundreds of its retail stores across the country.


Kit Houses from Sears, Roebuck

House-plan books like those from Palliser & Palliser date back to the Victorian period full construction drawings were offered, and sometimes also a millwork package. By the middle of the bungalow era, a host of companies offered pre-cut kits, which would be shipped by rail for on-site construction. Not only lumber but also everything down to the nuts and bolts, and even paint, were included. Leading sellers included Keith&rsquos, Aladdin, Sears, Harris Brothers, Montgomery Ward, and Gordon&ndashVan Tine.

The Ohio bungalow as it looks today.

From 1908 until 1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold over 70,000 kit houses through their Modern Homes and Honor Bilt catalogs. Designs for 370 different plans ranged from the elaborate to the simple the &lsquoGoldenrod&rsquo, for example, was a three-room vacation cottage (no bath, out-house separate).

A version of the same house from the 1927 Sears catalog.

The Ohio bungalow restored by Sam and Kathleen (previous story) is the &lsquoArgyle&rsquo, a Sears bestseller with just 1,008 square feet but many nice features, inside and out. This particular design was marketed from 1915 until 1926. In 1915, the kit cost $785. By 1919, it was $1,479, and by 1923, it cost $2,349&mdash still an exceptional value. Sears provided some customization (mirror-reverse plans, for example), a book-length instruction manual, and 10,000&ndash30,000 pre-cut and -fitted framing members and elements. Plumbing, electrical, and heating equipment could be purchased separately, also from Sears.

The &lsquoArgyle&rsquo plan in 1923, with its floor plan and an interior rendering.

The couple found out about their house from a neighbor, who stopped by one day when Sam was working in the garden. &ldquoYou have a Sears kit house,&rdquo the man told his new neighbor. &ldquoIt was called the &lsquoArgyle&rsquo.&rdquo Quite delighted, Kathleen and Sam went to their local library and found a copy of a 1919 Sears Homes catalog: indeed, there was the familiar house plan.

Advertisement for a &ldquocut to fit&rdquo Craftsman bungalow from Sears, 1916.


The Most Unexpected Items People Used to Buy via Catalog

Not only could drugs like cocaine and heroin be purchased from catalogs, they could be shipped in the US Mail &ndash legally. Sears

10. Sears was a drug dealer of cocaine, heroin, and morphine through its stores and catalog

Before the sale of drugs and foods was regulated by the government Sears and other retailers did a brisk business in the sale of patent medicines and other items which contained liberal amounts of what are now referred to as controlled substances. Patent medicines were marketed as both cures &ndash panaceas for a diverse number of complaints &ndash and as preventative tonics, which aided digestion, provided sound sleep, eased anxiety, and stimulated appetite. Nearly all contained various amounts of narcotics. Sears marketed a Peruvian Wine of Coca, which &ldquosustains and refreshes both the body and the brain&rdquo according to its catalog description, &ldquotaken at any time with perfect safety&rdquo.

Coca wine was not the only means by which Sears sold the drug, as well as others. It was possible to order from the Sears catalog cocaine, morphine, and heroin, packaged with a syringe for use by the purchaser. Since all three drugs could be purchased openly from apothecaries and chemists, as well as from doctors, presumably Sears carried the narcotics in their catalog once again for the benefit of their more remote customers who did not have ready access to the conveniences of urban living. Most of the patent medicines and tonics which contained cocaine did not survive the need to rewrite their recipes in order to comply with changes to the law, though a few, including Coca-Cola and some cough syrups did, and are marketed still.


A HISTORY OF SEARS' HOUSE-SELLING ENDEAVORS

Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s first Modern Homes and Buildings Plan catalog was published in the spring of 1908. It was 44 pages. The mail-order residences sold for $650 for a three-room cottage to $2,500 for a nine-room, Queen Anne-style edifice.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. had been founded 22 years earlier by Richard Sears, a railroad agent turned-watch-salesman, and Alvah Roebuck, his repairman. (Roebuck sold out in 1895.)

Selling dwellings was a natural progression for Sears, who achieved vast wealth by offering a "wish book" of goods that could take Americans from birth (cribs) to death (tombstones). By the turn of the century, his catalog contained a sizable section devoted to doors, windows, moldings and other building materials.

Sears also figured, "What better to spur the sales of items for the home than to sell the home itself?" says Dan Sapp, a spokesman for what is today one of the nation's largest retailers.

Sears wasn't the only American company to sell houses mail-order in the first half of the century. The Hodgson Co., Alladin Homes and Montgomery Ward also were in the housing business between 1896 and 1910.

But Sears was the largest and its house business lasted the longest -- more than 30 years. The catalogs grew from 118 pages in 1912 to a peak of 146 pages in 1924.

Sales of Sears pre-cut homes reached 30,000 houses by 1925 and nearly 50,000 by 1930. The 1939 Sears catalog claimed that 100,000 families were living in its "Honor Bilt" Modern Homes as it called them.

In 1911, Sears also began offering attractive financing plans. It was said to be the only institution to grant mortgages without meeting the borrowers or inspecting their properties. Its leniency later came back to haunt the company.

The last Modern Homes catalog was printed in 1940, but leftover stock was sold into that decade, Sapp says. One of the later locations was Mountainview in Hellertown, where 300 houses were planned for property owned by Bethlehem Steel but only 61 built.

Sears stopped its Modern Homes catalog largely because during the Depression years leading up to World War II many people couldn't make their mortgage or credit payments. "We wanted to maintain good relationships with our customers and we didn't want to have to take their homes back," Sapp says.

In its heyday in the home business, Sears offered about 450 designs from modest two-room cottages to eight- to 10-room residences. Sears architects copied popular styles of the day. Few were distinctive.

Sears made ordering a dwelling as easy as ordering a radio or furniture. Typically, prospective buyers visited a sales office where they paged through the latest catalog or flier and selected the design that they wanted and could afford.

They could order a plan as they saw it or they could mix and match features from different plans. They also could bring their own plans and have Sears furnish the necessary materials. Buyers selected paint color and shingles from separate catalogs.

Those who plunked down a deposit were given a shipping schedule. They were responsible for the securing the land on which to build the home and for arranging the construction. Some constructed the houses themselves, others hired contractors.

The materials to build the houses were packaged at Sears in Chicago and shipped by rail to as near the buyer as possible. That explains why the largest concentration of Sears homes is in the Northeast and Midwest, areas which were well served by rail lines. A typical house unassembled would fit in two boxcars. The material was scheduled to arrive in widely spaced intervals to prevent chaos.

Later, company vans made deliveries to construction sites.

Sapp says that there never were many homes in the West and other areas where Sears didn't have as strong a presence.

The lumber for the dwellings in Hellertown came from a mill in Newark, N.J., that Sears opened in 1925 to help increase its East Coast sales.

The kits came with construction manuals, often as thick as 75 pages. The manuals were written for the owner and the builder and included detailed instructions for every phase of construction.

Some materials were available for an extra charge such as screens, storm windows and lighting fixtures.

The houses were built using conventional techniques and materials. Sears advertised that because everything was precut -- at a time when power tools were rare -- their homes could be built more quickly than most. The flier boasted it would take "352 carpenter hours for a small Sears home compared to 583 hours for a conventional home, an impressive 40 percent savings in labor." But the speed with which the homes went up made some people skeptical, recalls Jerry Wartman, one of the original owners of the Sears homes built in Mountainview.

Most of the residences were sold to individual buyers. However, a number were put up by employers seeking housing for their workers, says David M. Schwartz, who wrote about "When Homes Were Just a Mailbox Away," for Smithsonian magazine in November 1985. Schwartz's article focuses on the largest known cluster, which is in Carlinville, Ill. The cluster of 192 homes had been built by Standard Oil Co. for its workers in 1918.

The houses built on Bethlehem Steel property are mentioned briefly in Schwartz's article. Bette Kovach, a spokeswoman for Bethlehem Steel, confirms that the company owned the property on which they were built, but says the steel company did not build them. According to Wartman, Bethlehem Steel installed the streets, curbs, gutters and macadam sidewalks. It also sold a 4.2-acre lot to the borough for $1 for a shopping center that was never built, he says.

Dwellings also were built for employees of the American Magnesia Co. in Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County. However, the development called Peach Run was razed for the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

While some of the catalogs have been put on microfilm and copies donated to libraries, records of who bought Sears home have not survived, Sapp says. The company receives calls from people at least once a week asking how they can identify if they have a Sears house, Sapp says. Sapp says Sears has no way of helping, but keeps a list in its archives department of owners who identify themselves as having Sears homes.

Sapp says callers may be referred to an association of Sears homeowners that recently was formed in Glen Ellyn, Ill. The association members work to preserve their houses' history and publish a newsletter. Chairperson is Joan Johns of 627 Euclid, Glen Ellyn, Il. 60137. Membership dues are $10 and renewal dues are $8.

Historians Katherine Cole Stevenson and H. Ward Jandl have compiled many of the floor plans from the catalogs for a book, "Houses By Mail: A Guide to from the Sears, Roebuck and Company." Their book, which may help some identify their dwellings, was published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986.

Although Sears is no longer in the homes or the catalog businesses, about 100 companies, many of which are in New England, sell kit houses today. Today, dwelling plans also are available in magazines, on CD-ROM and the Internet.


Longmeadow, Mass.

A Sears Verona, catalog illustration

Sears houses arrived in two railroad box cars in a variety of styles and prices. At the high end was the Magnolia, a four-bedroom, high-ceilinged colonial modeled after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house in Cambridge, Mass. It sold for $5,972. (See featured image.)

At the low end was the Natoma, a three-room house that sold for $191. It had no bathroom, but you could buy the outhouse separately.

The Verona was another ‘high-class home,’ according to the catalog, ‘of the Dutch type of colonial architecture.’ An authenticated Sears Verona has been identified at 115 Belleclaire Ave., in Longmeadow, Mass.

A house on Medway St. in Norfolk, Mass., is in contention for being a Sears house. Authentic Sears houses were also assembled in Newton, Easthampton, Boston, Woburn, Springfield, Wrentham, Cohasset and Pittsfield.


How Sears Kit Homes changed housing

Last fall, e-commerce behemoth Amazon elicited bemused reactions when it started selling shipping container homes online. Beyond obvious jokes—was the Prime program simply finding a more straightforward way to ship you everything in your home—it was impressive that the company’s deliver-anything-to-your doorstep ethos now applied to homes, not just household goods. `

While Amazon’s logistics empire and same-day delivery service is perhaps its crowning achievement, sending homes through the mail isn’t new or novel. More than a century ago, Sears, Roebuck & Co. sent and shipped entire home kits across the country, a then-revolutionary service that would impact not just retailing, but home design and construction.

reading about Sears house kits they'd ship to you by train & you built it yourself. Pretty into The Greenview myself https://t.co/EB47wiqRj5 pic.twitter.com/8o2JQjiqf7

— jon klassen (@burstofbeaden) August 24, 2017

The retail chain’s bankruptcy filing this week, after decades of slow decline, obscures just how disruptive Sears was in its early 20th century heyday. While the business page obituaries will continue to position Sears as the Amazon of its day—and there’s some truth to that—the physical footprint left by Sears, especially via its kit home program and Modern Homes catalog, is wholly different than anything Amazon has yet to achieve.

Consider this: In an era before commercial aviation and long-haul trucking, Sears, Roebuck & Co. set up an operation that would package and ship more than 400 different types of homes and buildings to anybody who had the cash and access to a catalog. From 1908 to 1940, Chicago-based Sears sold between 70,000 to 75,000 homes—”from Craftsman to Cape Cods, they offered a custom home at budgets and sizes that could accommodate any size family,” according to Popular Mechanics—which were sent via train car and set up as far afield as Florida, California, and even Alaska.

As a company-produced history from 1918 noted, “the customer must be satisfied for a lifetime for every house we sell is a standing advertisement for Sears, Roebuck and Company.”

Cover of a Sears Roebuck & Co. Consumer’s Guide, Fall 1900. Bettmann Archive

The dawn of catalog houses and DIY construction

To fully appreciate the impact of the Sears kit homes, it’s important to understand the reach of the company’s famous catalog. In 1908, when Sears began selling homes by mail, one-fifth of the country subscribed, according to a 99 Percent Invisible podcast about the program. Americans anywhere could flip through the four-pound, 1,400-page Bible of consumerism, thumb through more than 100,000 items, and have any one of them delivered to their door.

Sears gave consumers what they wanted, with a quality guarantee and cross-country shipping. The Modern Homes program, as the home kit division was called, simply took that philosophy to its conclusion, with the hope that anyone building a brand-new Sears house would furnish it with brand-new Sears goods.

10-room home kit in 1918 from Sears Roebuck for $5140: pic.twitter.com/jN4mB13auq

— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) December 8, 2017

Additionally, the Sears kit home program showcased some ingenuity in turning a loss into a sales leader. In 1906, the company’s building materials department was flailing, a result of an unwieldy number of items. Unsold goods sat in warehouses. That’s when Frank W. Kushel, former manager of the Sears china department, stepped in and suggested bundling inventory as a kit, an concept that competitors such as the Aladdin Company had already begun trying out.

As the company’s own archive site states, “Sears was not an innovative home designer. Sears was instead a very able follower of popular taste.” The company picked models, with appealing and aspirational names such as the Avondale, Crescent, or Starlight, selling the growing American middle class, and WWI veterans, the dream of their own home.

Buyers could request changes, and even send entire blueprints to Sears, which would have workers assemble all the requisite materials and ship everything needed to build their dream home. Buyers would simply provide land and labor. Sears would later even sell mortgages, until the Great Depression forced the retailer to foreclose on millions of dollars of customer homes, never a good look for building brand loyalty.

The public loved this new affordable means to buy a home, and still loves these homes to this day. In Carlinville, Illinois, Standard Oil bought $1 million worth of catalog homes to house their works, creating a 12-block area of Sears homes, the largest such collection in the U.S. (the company eventually named the Carlin model after the town). At one time, Pleasantville, New York, had a Sears & Roebuck hill because of the proliferation of mail-order homes, according to the book Houses by Mail. Today, several Sears homes are listed on the National Historic Register.

The cultural effects of homes by mail

Providing cheap, accessible, and quality housing is a significant accomplishment. But the cultural impact of Sears kit homes goes beyond just being a good buy.

Sears promised that a buyer with only rudimentary skills could assemble a kit home in 90 days. To back up this claim, the kit homes utilized balloon framing, a simpler method of building the skeleton of a home, helping to popularize the process. In addition, Sears also helped standardize the use of drywall and asphalt shingles, which both brought down the cost of construction for the average buyer.

Sears sold kits that lived up to the Modern Homes brand, making then new, novel, and costly modern conveniences such as central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity available to a wider array of Americans.

Farewell, Sears, Roebuck and Co., whose mail order catalogs included 400+ styles of kit homes that sold at least 70,000 units between 1908 and 1940. pic.twitter.com/Ce4x2bWkgi

— David Rifkind (@acmedef) October 15, 2018

Sears’ more simplistic home system also shifted social views on housing, according to 99 Percent Invisible. Americans had been living in multigenerational housing, with different rooms for different family members. Sears helped popularize new homes for newlyweds, and helped kickstart the rise in single-family living that would dip during the recession, but accelerate dramatically after WWII.

These homes were also technological feats. Prefabricated in mills and workshops across the U.S., Sears homes utilized pre-cut timber and parts before Ikea, and foreshadowed the prefab and modular home movements decades before they became buzzwords.

Finally, the anonymity that catalog sales offered was a powerful corrective to the abuses of the Jim Crow era. This idea of delivering anything to anyone, anywhere, was selling social justice at a time when segregation and racism severely restricted the rights, as well as shopping habits, of black Americans.

In my history of consumption class, I teach about #Sears, but what most people don't know is just how radical the catalogue was in the era of #Jim Crow. #twitterstorians

— Louis Hyman (@louishyman) October 15, 2018

Today, Sears homes still capture the imagination of history buffs and home buyers. Realtors place a premium on these quaint, Victorian-inspired designs, which often seem straight from a scene in the (fictional) Pleasantville, and some have recently sold for more than $1 million. A community of Sears catalog home fans has created books, maps, and tours of the homes (finding stamped lumber can be a sign your home was built from a kit).

In so many ways, the Sears kit homes popularized many trends that would shape American housing. Who would have thought that homes delivered through the mail would perhaps stand longer than the legendary company that sold and shipped them?


Catalogue no. 112.

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Retail Giant Sears Files For Bankruptcy

Retail Giant Sears Files For Bankruptcy

In its first catalog in 1888, Sears sold watches and jewelry. The catalogs proved to be popular, and over time different products were added and tested — including houses.

The Sears Modern Homes catalog debuted in 1908, and it offered all the material and blueprints needed to build a house. The pieces that arrived in the mail were meant to fit together sort of like Legos, so buyers could build the houses themselves or hire contractors.

"You would order everything from your light fixtures, to your lamp, [the wall covering], kitchen cabinets, the whole thing, whether you get a garage or not. And then it just shipped to you," preservationist Eric Dobson told NPR's Allison Keyes in 2014.

Sears was not the first company to offer mail-ordered "kit homes," but by the time the catalog was discontinued in 1940, Sears is estimated to have sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses.


Retail’s Tech Champion

Written by Ernie Smith on Aug 14, 2018

Today in Tedium: For a wide variety of reasons, Sears has been a company creaking its way through modern times for longer than many of the people reading this have even been alive. It was a fundamental company to the American revolution—while it didn’t invent the mail-order catalog, it made it a successful business and set the stage for decades of followers. But I don’t want to wallow in Sears’ failings there are plenty of other outlets for that. I want to focus on something that it did right: Its relatively early embrace of computing. It was a decision that, more than once, normalized something that was alien to Middle America. The company is still with us let’s celebrate it while we still have a shot. — Ernie @ Tedium

It’s like Netflix for Mac apps: If you’re the kind of person who likes trying out new programs to see what sticks, try SetApp, a Netflix-style “app store” for Mac programs. It’s cheap—just $9.99 a month—and it’ll be a huge boon to your productivity. Check it out!

The first home calculator sold by Sears in 1972.

The pivotal role Sears played in popularizing home electronics—especially video games

A Sears catalog, particularly a vintage one, is a real experience, as it highlights the sheer depth of the prowess of both American and global manufacturing in a very tangible way.

The company’s annual wish books, long a highlight of holiday seasons, were purely commercial endeavors. But the catalogs, which go on for hundreds of pages and are filled with all variety of toys for both kids and adults, reflected a cultural barometer of sorts. It was a yardstick of how far we had come from an innovation standpoint.

And in the 1970s, a whole lot of that innovation showed up in computer form.

(The site WishbookWeb.com is a great resource for these catalogs, and I must warn you of two things: One, it requires Flash two, it’s a rabbit hole. If you click the link, I’ll see you next week.)

One particular standout came on page 5 of the 1972 wish book, when an 8-digit Sears handheld calculator showed up next to a set of electric pinking shears. It was not a cheap device, costing $98.95 (the modern equivalent of $589.50), but it fully deserved its very prominent place in the catalog.

Sears, of course, was the kind of company that was able to turn anything into gold for a while. The company, starting from its mail-order business, built its own stores decades before companies like Walmart entered the scene. It got away with it due to its sheer diversity as a department store. It, like its competitors at chains like Macy’s and Montgomery Ward, could sell you anything. It was particularly good at selling stuff to everyone in the family—hence why the company long had a reputation for its power tools as much as its clothing.

It was this ability to hit everyone in the family that made it particularly well suited to introduce gadgets to Middle America. Early electronics, many of which appeared in the toy aisle or were found inside the music instruments the company sold, gave way to calculators. (And automatic garage door openers—Sears was big on selling those around 1970.) Calculators gave way to video games video games gave way to computers computers gave way to more computers, and Sears had both the catalog listings and shelf space to give all this tech.

For its era, it had a reach that was unmatched, even by companies that specialized in this type of thing, like Radio Shack. And the computer industry was still fledgling it hadn’t even figured out stores yet.

Of course, the true turning point, as awesome as the calculator is, comes thanks to a fateful decision involving Atari.

Here was the issue: The Magnavox Odyssey, a product that basically invented the video game market, didn’t set the world ablaze for two reasons: One, it was prohibitively expensive (it cost roughly as much as the calculator upon its 1972 release) and two, it was initially only sold in Magnavox’s own dealerships, effectively as a way to get people in the door.

And by the time Atari was interested in getting into the home video game market itself with Pong in the mid-1970s, the unproven market for home video games made things a bit of a slog.

Well, until Sears came along.

Sears had started selling the Odyssey in its catalogs, in (of all places) the sports section, despite the catalog having a dedicated electronics section. It couldn’t sell the device in its stores, because Magnavox wouldn’t let it.

In a contributed piece for the Engineering and Technology History Wiki, Allan Alcorn, the man credited with creating Pong, explained that this created an opportunity for Atari, as the buyer, Tom Quinn, felt that he was being left out of an opportunity.

“Magnavox wanted the customers to think that their video game only worked on a Magnavox set, even though it would work on any set. So they only sold it in their retail stores,” Alcorn wrote. “And Sears convinced them to let them sell it but only in the Sears catalog, not the Sears stores because they felt it would compete against Magnavox dealers. Tom knew this was a big market there, but he was frustrated.”

Atari had the right product to solve this problem, but it was brand new to consumer products and it would require some selling up the food chain. Sears, however, wanted exclusive rights—which made Atari CEO Nolan Bushnell uncomfortable, as he worried that Sears could drop them at any time.

But after a failed attempt to sell the product at a trade show, the choice was clear: If they wanted to sell this thing, they would have to go with Sears, and it would have to be exclusive.

This proved to be a good thing for a couple of reasons, beyond Sears’ natural reach one, Atari was green at selling retail products, and two, Sears was able to help the company get past some of the headaches of selling a home video game system, particularly a Federal Communications Commission requirement that required devices that hooked up to TV sets to meet certain compliance requirements. Atari needed training wheels to pull these things off, and Sears offered them up.

So, in December of 1975, the Tele-Games Pong console came out on the market (as Sears likes to use house names for everything), and it turned out to be a massive hit. Atari soon was selling its own renditions of the device, and its follow-up, the Video Computer System (better known today as the 2600), came to life a couple years later, also with the early support of Sears.

A commercial for the Sears Video Arcade, a white-labeled Atari VCS.

Had Sears not offered Atari the help it needed at a particularly formative time in its history, our modern video game industry might have stumbled out of the gate.

It wouldn’t be the last time Sears helped electronics find their way in the world.

Five important electronic devices that Sears sold during the ’80s and ‘90s

  1. The Intellivision: Like Atari, Mattel allowed its device to be rebranded for Sears’ needs, with the exclusive variant for Sears called the Sears Super Video Arcade. The device was more powerful than the 2600, but had an infamous Achilles heel: A keyboard component that was made of vaporware.
  2. The Commodore 64: As competitors like Texas Instruments failed to make headway with their confused business models, Commodore’s Jack Tramiel showed that he was a master of mass-marketing by putting the C64 in places where the public actually shopped. This proved a turning point for computing in general. “Rather than stick to computer stores, the Commodore 64 was stocked at mass market retailers in much the same way television and game systems had broken out of their hobbyist markets,” Jake Rossen wrote on Mental Floss last month. “Seeing a Commodore 64 display at Sears helped normalize the idea of home computing.”
  3. Apple Macintosh: One of the first places where consumers could get their hands on both the initial Mac and the Apple Lisa was at Sears’ Business Systems Centers, an in-store computing shop that focused on business products. Unfortunately, just like many other stores that sold Apple products, Sears was throwing it out by March of 1986. That, of course, didn’t stop Sears from selling an Apple II clone, the VTech Laser 128, not long after.
  4. Nintendo Entertainment System: One common theme that you’ll see when looking through the Sears wish books is toy robots—lots of them—something that validates Nintendo’s early business decision to include the R.O.B. in its early NES variants. First appearing in the 1986 Sears catalog, Nintendo became a major force in gaming by 1988, and Sears dedicated much real estate to the NES in the wish book, including a full spread highlighting the games of the era. The Sega Master System, along with two Atari consoles, got nothing nowhere near this arrangement in the catalog.
  5. Packard Bell computers: At a time when many homes were buying computers for the first time, they were buying machines from this iconic manufacturer, whose fate we covered in 2016. Per a 1995 Fortune magazine article, Packard Bell once received half of Sears’ real estate set aside for computers.

“This is how shopping will evolve in the next 10 years. This isn’t any fly-by-night operation or some flash in a pan—this is Sears and IBM, for God’s sake.”

— An unnamed retailer offering their opinion to The Chicago Tribune on an effort called Trintex in 1987. The initiative, which would later become better known as Prodigy, was a closely watched attempt at making a graphical dial-up service with advertising deeply integrated into the mix.

A screenshot of the Prodigy service, circa 1990. (Benj Edwards/Flickr)

How Prodigy’s early success and slow failure highlights why Sears never became Amazon

If you grew up in the ’80s and early ‘90s, you may be familiar with Prodigy, an online service that helped pioneer graphical interfaces at a time when most online content was text-based.

What you might not have realized is that it was Sears’ attempt to create the information superhighway in its own image, complete with the help of IBM. The partnership, first announced in 1984 under the name Trintex, took a few forms, shed at least one partner (CBS), and cost a whole lot of money before the first consumer even got to touch it at all.

The length of time between inception and realization (it launched in 1988) meant the terminology changed in the intervening years while “videotex” was in vogue for the teletext-style graphical approach used in 1984, the terminology faded (at least in the U.S.) after a series of failures of the technology, most notably Knight-Ridder’s Viewtron, which I mentioned here.

But it was using much of the same technology. To this day, Prodigy is the most successful use of the North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax, or NAPLPS, graphical rendering technology, in the U.S. (For regular Tedium readers, NAPLPS was the technology on which Genesis Storytime was based.)

Part of the reason for that was that it avoided using set-top boxes that other videotex systems used and ran directly off computers, something it was able to do as a result of its relatively late entry to the market.

The effort did not exactly inspire optimism: “I’d give it a 50-50 chance,” consultant Gary H. Arlen told The New York Times in 1988. “They figured out a lot of things, but it’s still a question of whether people are sitting at home wanting this stuff and willing to pay for it.”

But in the end, Sears and IBM managed to reach further than nearly every other graphical online service of its era due to their focus on marketing and due to the service’s flat-rate costs, which stood out at a time when CompuServe charged by the hour. Linda Ellerbee, the famed journalist known to millennials as the host of Nick News, appeared in the network’s early advertising. IBM bundled the service with its PS/1 and PS/2 machines, which Sears (of course) conveniently sold.

Speaking of shopping, that was something that was deeply embedded in the concept. Users could buy stuff directly from advertisers. The model, in fact, was subsidized by the idea that people would read ads and buy stuff, and that they would use the service passively, like TV, lurking rather than interacting.

Instead, people used the service as one might assume they would: To communicate with other people, particularly through email, which was the killer application, even though it was set up for shopping-related reasons. As TechRepublic notes, this was so unanticipated that it broke their model: Prodigy users were sending too many messages, meaning it cost more to run the service than anticipated, and the unvarnished nature of the comments led to a heavy-handed approach to censorship, one that even went to the point of trying to defuse flame wars. Those advertisers needed to be protected!

In the end, Sears’ influence on Prodigy might have ended up holding it back, in part due to the clear commercial influence it fostered.

It didn’t help, either, that upstarts without such compromise baked into their model were cropping up everywhere else—including over at America Online, which was built with point-and-click interfaces in mind (unlike Prodigy), and on the open internet, which had none of Prodigy’s censorship problems.

Prodigy, over time, became more like a traditional ISP. It had to—the technology was old when it launched and positively ancient by the time the internet really took off.

“Built from systems that were state-of-the art at the dawn of the 1980s, and existing on top of a complex and proprietary network infrastructure that was always separate from the Internet, Prodigy existed in spite of itself,” tech historian Benj Edwards wrote for The Atlantic in 2014, in a piece focused on the complexity of salvaging any of Prodigy’s history that I highly recommend.

By the mid-‘90s, Sears wanted off the ride, which cost them hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize and proved less fruitful to its goals of selling people stuff than anticipated.

In a comment to CNET in 1996, Prodigy Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Barry Kluger described Sears’ sale of its stake of the company like someone diplomatically ending a long-term relationship.

“Sears’s decision to seek a buyer resolves a long-standing issue,” Kluger stated. “For Prodigy, it presents a wide array of new exciting options, all designed to continue to grow and enhance the asset.”

Prodigy would shut down just three years later. IBM and Sears took a sizable loss on the effort after selling it for a price less than their estimated $1 billion in investments.

Sears was an old-guard company attached to a cutting-edge technology, one that they had to sell themselves. It wasn’t like the catalogs or the stores, where all they had to do is place it in a place where consumers could buy it. Perhaps they were out of their league.

You can look at Sears’ track record in the ’70s and ’80s regarding technology and wonder what the heck happened.

In so many ways, they were out front. They helped sell and market some of the most important computing devices of the modern era, meaning they had deals with every major technology company during an era when innovation was happening, fast. They owned an online service at a time when owning an online service was actually unique and groundbreaking. And they dominated a sector—mail-order delivery—that became even more important in the internet era.

But, as all of those articles I linked at the top of the piece made clear, Sears receded into itself, embracing a stay-the-course strategy as the rest of the world was very much not staying the course. In fact, in the early ’90s, it made what in retrospect looks like a pretty sizable mistake: It got rid of the catalog.

It was part of a fire sale that saw the company lay off tens of thousands of people and drop a number of major businesses, including a spinoff of its Discover Card brand. The catalog generated more than $3 billion in sales annually, per the Chicago Tribune, but the company couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable.

“With this we are much more clearly focused on our core business,” Sears executive Arthur Martinez said, clearly not realizing what they were giving up. “We will be a leaner but more successful enterprise.”

The next year, online shopping—a market that would have helped stem those losses, a market Sears wanted for itself—arrived in a big way, without its help. As Amazon was showing the path forward for the online shopping market Sears wanted for itself, Sears was receding into its stores.

Soon, it would be purchased by a company whose fate would look just as backwards and dire, and the two companies would limp into the modern age, together.

Sears isn’t dead yet, but you know the storyline. It’s still slowly rolling out as I write this.

Let’s hope they don’t sell the memories off in the process.

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.


Sears bankruptcy rekindles memories of store that shaped American culture (vintage photos)

Cleveland, Ohio – Sears has always been more than a store for Americans.

For many, it was THE store. The retailer has been part of the American fabric for generations, selling everything from houses to hubcaps. From its legendary catalogs to its iconic stores, Sears helped shape tastes and homes for more than a century.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sear at Midway Mall, 1967.

But the last few decades were not kind to Sears, which filed for bankruptcy in October. It seemed headed for liquidation. But on Wednesday, a deal was reached in a New York bankruptcy court to keep 400 Sears stores open, via a $5.3 billion takeover bid from Sears Holdings Corporation Chairman Eddie Lampert. The Kenmore and DieHard brands will also live on. Jobs for 50,000 employees will be retained. But for a store that once had more than 4,000 locations, it is quite a fall. Time will tell if Sears can continue in such a reduced format.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Birthplace of Sears, Roebuck and Co. was this railroad station in North Redwood, Minnesota

From its launch in 1886 by railway agent Richard Sears in Minnesota, Sears, Roebuck and Company was the store for the common man and woman. It was an affordable and accessible retailer at a time when many shops were often out of the price range of most Americans – or located too far away.

When Sears started, more than two-thirds of Americans lived in rural areas, many a long journey from the nearest general store. Sears Catalogs were a lifeline for these Americans, with more than 500 pages selling everything from clothes to shoes to china to musical instruments and bicycles. Sears catalogs, published until 1993, are even credited with helping subvert Jim Crow laws in the South, where African-Americans were often subjected to racism in shops, or even lack of access to goods.

Sears hit the Cleveland market in the 1890s. Small ads ran in papers such as The Plain Dealer: “If you will cut this notice out and send to Sears, Roebuck & Co. Chicago they will send you their 1898 bicycle catalog and full particulars.”

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection

Beginning in 1908, Sears even began to sell complete homes. An estimated 75,000 pre-fab “Sears Homes” were sold by mail-order by 1940, with prices as low as $450. To this day, their “Princeville,” “Elsmore” and “Rodessa” styles can be seen in. older suburbs such as Lakewood, Cleveland Heights and Bay Village. There was even a two-story “Cleveland” house named after the city.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 1940

“After I bought my home in Lakewood, a friend visiting from Wisconsin said she thought it was a Sears home,” says Linda Marsh. “I found a book on Sears homes and with research help from the Lakewood Historical Society determined it was “The Elmwood.” The cost was $1493 in 1917.”

Sears really was selling the American dream.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Sears Tower in Chicago, 1981.

As the decades passed, Sears kept its focus on the middle class and working class consumers. As Americans became more urban after World War I, they began to open brick-and-mortar stores to serve this new market. The first location was opened in their headquarters city of Chicago in 1925, where Sears had moved with watch repairman Alvah C. Roebuck to expand their business in 1887.

Cleveland Public Library, Plain Dealer Collection

The first Cleveland stores opened in the late 1920s, at 10900 Lorain Avenue and the main location at 8501 Carnegie Ave., pictured. A location at 5927 Broadway Ave. followed.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: The 1928 opening of the Lorain Avenue Sears.

At first, the stores were located on main thoroughfares in heavily trafficked areas with access to public transportation and cars.

“Growing up in East Cleveland during the forties, the Sears for our family of five was … on Euclid Avenue between Euclid and Carnegie. It was the place to go for nearly everything. It offered a vast array of products with reasonable prices and assured quality,” said Mel Maurer of Westlake.

Cleveland Public Library, Plain Dealer

“Its sales people were well trained in customer service and knowledge of the products they were selling. Companies were proud to have their goods in Sears Stores and catalog and Sears' customers were proud to own them.”

As Americans began to move to the suburbs after World War II, Sears followed with a rapid expansion. Always, the focus was on the average working American.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears at Richmond Mall,

“I have always categorized myself as a Sears kid. Raised with three other siblings with a stay-at-home mom and a dad that worked for General Motors in Michigan our family did not have a lot of discretionary income. My mother had to be a good consumer. Sears was the store for every man and my mother could shop there for hours she had a ‘Sears card’ and she purchased quality items that could be handed down to the next son or daughter,” said Ken Jones of Mentor.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1958

New stores opened locally at Southland Shopping Center in Middleburg Heights, Midway Mall in Elyria, Great Northern Mall and other locations through the next several decades.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears at Great Lakes Mall, 1971.

Notably, Sears stores appealed to more than just homemakers, unlike many retailers. There were large tool and automotive sections for male shoppers, too. As home ownership ballooned, Sears’ Kenmore appliance departments became a mainstay.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears at Great Lakes Mall.

As Americans leisure time grew, Sears added TV and home entertainment and even record departments.

They were full service stores, with everything from candy shops to bakeries and cafes. A family could spend a whole afternoon in Sears.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured, Sears 1937.

“My favorite Sears was located at West 110th and Lorain Ave,” says Joe Kurilec of Berea. “ Parking was behind the store. As you entered, the smell of popcorn and cooking nuts always made you hungry. You also could buy great hotdogs and Hire’s root beer. In the same entrance area was a counter selling all types of nuts, roasted right there. Pretzels, cheese corn and potato chips were also sold.

“Going down stairs at the West 110th store you could have a good meal at the cafeteria! … Going upstairs at West 110th Sears was were you could pay your Sears charge card bills. … All Sears stores had just about every type of item you would need.”

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection

Design was always very important to Sears stores, embodying its modern mindset. Early stores such as the mothership at 8501 Carnegie, now part of the Cleveland Clinic, were sleek and Art Deco. They suggested travel and cars and modernity and progress. Later suburban stories such as the Southland location, pictured, reflected a changing view of modernity, with a space age Googie-style design.

“I grew up less than a mile from the Sears store in Southland in the 1960s, when it was the state of the art design and everyone went there to shop for just about anything you can think of,” says Mike Kiewel of Parma Heights.

“As a kid Mom and Dad took my family to Sears to buy our clothes for school and church. While we were there, my brothers and I would sneak off to the toy section to play with various toys of the day and dreaming of owning one of the cool new bikes on display. … Over the years I have purchased countless appliances, shoes and clothing for myself and my own kids, lawn mowers, snow blowers, etc. as Sears was the go to place for quality and great prices. … I am sad every time I drive past the empty store remembering how great it was as a big part of my life.”

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears, 1976.

At its height, there were close to 4,000 stores in America. Sears remained the largest retailer in the country until 1989. Since then, the store has floundered as it tried to keep pace with changing tastes and shopping habits – as have many middle-market retailers, including JC Penny.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Midway Mall, 1968.

No longer at the front line of “modern,” the store has not made a profit since 2010. From 2010 to 2017, the number of stores declined from 3,500 to 695. In October of 2018, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. The future of this store is still up in the air following the bankruptcy court news. Whatever happens, retail in America is forever changed.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears Business Center, 1981.

Reader memories of Sears

We recently asked Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com readers to share their Sears memories. Here’s what they said, along with more vintage photos.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured, 1970 Midway Mall.

When I was a young child (before the age of 10), my grandfather lived on Linnet Ave. in Cleveland. We would often walk to the Sears store (located somewhere near there!--Linnet & W. 105th). My greatest memory of that store was the candy and nut counter when you walked in. The smell was glorious! And, on the way out of the store, after shopping, we were able to pick out a piece of candy from that counter or a bag of nuts to take home! - Kelly Standish

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Great Lakes Mall, 1971

It would be a shame if Sears disappears. The store I remember from my "youth" was the one at West 110th and Lorain. The parking lot was in the rear of the property. You entered in the back and usually could smell popcorn, as there apparently was a machine there (maybe a concession stand where you could also get something to drink ?). I am 70 + years old so some details are sketchy. I also believe the tire sales department was in that back area as I seem to recall the distinct smell of rubber (?). I am sure other folks of a similar age will fill you in even better than I. I also think there were escalators straight ahead to get to the upper floor.

Just a "fun" place to visit as a kid with Mom, Dad, and my Brother. – Marilyn Kmetz

My family has a long history with Sears. My mother worked at the Sears in Cleveland at West 110th Street and Lorain Road. She started working in the late 1950’s.She worked in the yard goods department. She eventually became the department manager. My mother was a fabulous sewer so this department was ideal for her. I remember her bringing home remnants of material that she would eventually use to make clothes for herself, other family members, and me—even my Barbie doll! Yes, the pattern companies made patterns for that doll. My mother was eventually transferred to the jewelry department as the store phased out yard goods. Eventually, my mother retired from Sears when that store closed.

My younger brother and I also worked part time at the same store. I worked in the record/tv department and my brother worked in the plumbing department. The job at this store got me through college. That was a unique store, as it sold boats and had a huge candy department. My family was very loyal to Sears and its products. We had Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, furniture pieces, televisions and even paint. Sears was always our “go to” store for anything we needed to purchase.

Many lifelong friends were formed because of working at the store. Even into their seniors years, these friends would meet on a regular basis and reminisce about ‘the good old days’ at Sears W. 110th.

I also worked at the Great Northern store. I used this part time position to supplement my income combined with my full time job. – Eleanor Munday

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1971 Great Lakes Mall.

I remember walking over a mile down the hill on Lorain Road to West 110th Street where the old Sears building was. I remember and riding the escalators and taking the back steps as if it was yesterday, the smell of popcorn in the air from the concession stand behind the huge candy section where you could buy bulk candy from behind the glass. I remember playing hide and seek with my friends and brothers. And how incredibly decorated it was around the holidays.- Keith Cupach

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1941, Sears, Roebuck & Co. $1,000,000 warehouse at 4200 Lakeside Avenue N.E. c

I worked at the Southland Sears while in high school in the early ❰s. I struck up a friendship with my future husband while waiting to punch in at the time clock. There are many stories like this and it is nothing unique. Sears was also a common place for people to cash paychecks after banking hours. They paid employees in cash down to the penny. Sears charged a small fee for this service to others. The story I have to tell is about my father.

One day when he went to cash his check the clerk commented on how great he smelled. He was a bit taken back until he realized that she probably smelled the mixture of powder sugar and vanilla on him. He made the donuts for Royal Castle. Every week after that he brought them donuts and never paid the fee again! – Margie Knight

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1937.

How do I begin? My happy memories go back 60+ years to the Sears store on W. 110 and Lorain Avenue. My Mom, sisters, and I would often walk there to shop. My Mom did a lot of sewing and I remember all the fabrics and patterns on the first floor in the southwest corner of the store. I loved looking at the toys and the clothes. My parents bought a few pieces of furniture there, too. Who can forget the wonderful smells of popcorn, peanuts, and candy when entering from the back and walking past the candy counter? My friends and I would often stop in on our way home from Wilbur Wright Junior High School. We loved to go to the cafeteria and have a soft drink and maybe a snack. As a student in the driver's education class at West Tech, we went to the parking lot to practice our parking skills. After my husband and I married, we lived right down the street and would walk there to buy a live Christmas tree and drag it home. Before it closed, I made sure I walked through the store one last time.

And then I had to experience the closing of the Sears store at Southland shopping center. Another great store for clothes, appliances. What a shame that once a leader in the retail store business no longer exists. - Lillian Gathers

As an ⟪rly' baby boomer (seventy-something), I well remember the iconic Sears & Roebuck store on Lorain Ave. near West 117 St. in Cleveland.

My uncle, John Shirosky, worked for many years in the Men's Clothing Department at that store, fitting many men---younger and older---for suits.

My father and I would drive from the family's Old Brooklyn-area home (in the "shadows" of the Cleveland Metro Park's Zoo) to oftentimes visit that store---and my uncle.

Our entire family patronized the Sears store near West 117 St. every Christmas in search of the "perfect" Christmas tree. (Think of the movie, ɼhristmas Story.')

My mother especially liked the Appliance Department---while my father favored the tools area.

Anyway, that particular Sears store was a HUGE building indeed. in the eyes of a young boy!

Alas, I miss those experiences. as I'm now in the "golden years" of my life.

- 'Heart-broken' Sears patron, James (Jim) Stupar.

My family was always loyal to Sears. Washer, dryers, fridges, etc. when I graduated high school and started working, I couldn't get a credit card to save my life. I worked at RTA, and made very good money. Finally we tried Sears and they gave me my first card. I can still remember the number, 70 50290 611 – Melinda Hankins

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1987 McKids collection

I was born in 1954, so, I have many memories of Sears. Lived on the east and west sides of Cleveland. The candy counter at Southland, was a must to stop at. I always bought appliances from Sears, along with everything under the roof. My car repairs at Southland and South Park, great employees. I remember my stepson, asking his father, if he and his sister, came from Sears. LOL. I found the most comfortable blouses there. A true icon, that will be missed. – Ellen M. Stanton

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Carnegie store, 1967.

Growing up on the Westside of Cleveland it's were we went for our school clothes and shoes. Parents bought their appliances there. Remember a trip sometimes ended at the candy shop for a treat. My sister even had her first job as beautician in their beauty shop. Sears where we always went for anything we needed since May co. and Higbees were above our price range. – Theresia Julian

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Midway Mall, 1970.

There used to be a Sears on Lorain Ave. past West Blvd. I remember as a kid driving there from our house on West 32nd Street with my brothers and parents. We arrived after going up Lorain and turned into a massive parking lot at the back of the store.

We would all get out of the car and walk in. The first thing my Dad did was buy a bag of popcorn us kids would share with him as my Mom would walk and shop for clothes for us. The first thing you would smell in the store as you walked in was the popcorn popping.

It was one stop shopping there for my parents. Clothes, paints, appliances, tools, small tractors and all kinds of gadgets to look at and hold.- John Vujevich

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Midway Mall, 1970.

I used to live on West 105th by Madison Avenue in Cleveland and there was a Sears on West 110 and Lorain Ave. Across the street was a Kressge store. If I couldn't afford the white bobby socks at Sears for my mother as a Christmas present, then I would go to Kresseges. Also the funniest thing was the vastness of the parking lot at Sears. It was so large that my brother taught me to drive a stick shift and I was able to get into second gear because it was so enormous! This was circa 1970. Good memories. – Linda Elk

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Sears Warehouse, 1941.

I grew up near the Sears store on West 110 street and Lorain Ave. My mother worked in the Hough Bakery in the causeway between Sears and the groceries store that connected them. – Tom Holland

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1966, Richmond Mall.

I'm writing with a fond memory of Sears. I grew up in Inglewood, California. In the early ❰s, Sears was a big department store for my neighborhood. My father worked a lot during the week, so he would spend time with my brother and I on the weekends to give my mom a break. One of my fondest memories of that time with my dad was when he would take us to the concession department of Sears. At that time Sears had a huge area where you could get candy and roasted nuts. This is before the pre-packaged candy bars of today. There was a huge glass bar where you could see all the different candy and nuts. They would scoop out a portion and weigh it before putting it in small paper bags. I didn't reach the counter, but I would peer through those glass windows of all the colors of candy with awe. I especially remember the salty smell of the fresh roasted nuts and the sweet smell of candy. We usually would get nuts, Spanish peanuts, but occasionally he would treat us to candy, usually sugared orange slices. It was always a special trip for us, but mostly it was just a moment when I had my dad attention. Eventually they shut down the nut and candy department as convenience stores cropped up around town, and then much later they closed the Sears store in Inglewood as big malls became more common. But those memories of simpler times, trips to Sears to pick up snacks with my dad, are cherished memories for me, especially now that he's gone. – Nicole Elam

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: 1968.

I worked at Sears at Midway Mall in Elyria in 1972 after graduating from college. I was a Customer Service Management Trainee, working in Customer Service and in the different departments. It truly was a full service retail experience. Men and women made careers in sales and felt like Sears was their home. Customer service and satisfaction was important. I left after a year to a better paying job, but I valued the lessons I learned at Sears. Don't blame just the internet for Sears and other retail stores demise. Wal-Mart started the change with their big box stores and impersonal shopping with few employees to offer help and long lines to check out. The personal customer service disappeared thanks to Sam Walton and got worse as the major retailers followed suit. The internet was just the final dagger in an already wheezing and dying retail business – Zippy One, via Cleveland.com

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Shoregate Shopping Center

I worked at Sears at the Richmond Mall when I first graduated from High School. I worked in the Hardware Dept. We had a big box in the back for broken Craftsman tools that people brought in. We were to replace the hand tool at no cost and no questions asked! I shopped at Sears for years after I left there. I'll miss Sears if it folds! - Tony Rome

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured, Southland 1964.

Sears and Roebuck at West 110th was the epitome of retail services in the 1970s. They had it all, even a huge candy bar. As time wore on, it even became my elderly grandfather's go to socializing joint as it had a cafe on the Lorain side. - Dan6erousMonkey5 Via Cleveland.com

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Great Lakes Mall.

Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection. Pictured: Great Northern, 1976.


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