A Sears drill from the 1980s, still running.

That time when Sears was the everything store

Do you remember the Sears Wish Book? Sears does. That’s why it reintroduced it online and in print for this year. You can read more about that here.

However, the next week, Sears announced more Sears/Kmart store closures. If your town still has a Kmart, enjoy. Tacoma’s seen one after the other vanish.

Amid all this, there was a fascinating back-and-forth between Sears and The Wall Street Journal over recent coverage of its ongoing demise, which Sears says is just a rehash of negative headlines. The headline on the WSJ piece was: “Inside the Decline of Sears, the Amazon of the 20th Century.” 

Deep in the report, there is a prophetic quote from a Sears executive in 1989:

“The issue really isn’t success or failure,” Sears then-chairman Edward Brennan said in 1989, according to the “The Attention Merchants,” a book about media and marketing. “It’s really a question of how big a success we’re going to be.”

Take a moment to marvel at that statement. That was Sears’ outlook in 1989, as it had been probably since the turn of the century.

Skip ahead one year.

In 1990, Walmart passed Sears as the country’s largest retailer by sales, according to the WSJ piece.

And now, Walmart doesn’t want to be the next Sears, nor does Target, or Costco, or even Kroger, which announced its own clothing line last week to debut fall 2018. 

People’s buying habits change. Let’s go back 40 years ago to 1977.

I’m going to make a gratuitous Pink Floyd reference here, but stay with me.

In 1977, Pink Floyd was on their “In the Flesh” (or “Animals”) tour. The tour came to Chicago. Posters were made. On that poster it lists, among ticket vendors, “Montgomery Wards” (sic) and Sears.

Sears, with everything from Pink Floyd tickets to its Wish Book catalog, was at that time, the everything store. You could say it was the Amazon of the 20th Century.

Do you know why I know about that poster? Because I came across prints of the poster on the Amazon of the 21st Century — which is actually Amazon.

I’ve written extensively about Amazon in our life in past blog entries. But what about Sears?

We still use our Sears drill that Jim bought in the 1980s, and it works flawlessly. We bought the tires currently on our cars from Sears, and the appliances that came with our home are Kenmore. No complaints. When I was a child, I received a Sears tape recorder and it was one of my most treasured possessions — I still have recordings of my mom’s voice as a result of that machine.

How do we put a tangible value on intangible things like that from a retailer that gave you priceless memories? Things aren’t people, to be clear, but things can bring the memories of certain people back to you. And I think that’s why people still quietly root for Sears, or Kmart. You could live with or without the stores in their present-day forms, but the memories attached to them, for many people, are something else entirely.

I’m not alone in this thinking. Go to Dan Bell’s YouTube channel about dead malls or visit the Retail Archaeology site to see others who feel the same way. We have a hard time letting go of our retail giants.