I was saddened to read last week that Sears was closing its last remaining store in Chicago. At one time Sears was a mighty colossus that bestrode the retail world. It was the largest retailer in the world with a thousand stores and tens of thousands of employees. Iconic names like Kenmore, Craftsman and Die Hard were Sears brands. Dean Witter, Coldwell Banker, All State and Discover Card were Sears companies. You were brought home for the first time in a Sears blanket and could be buried under a Sears tombstone.
When I was a kid, the Sears store in downtown New Albany was the place to covet Christmas toys. Right after Thanksgiving, the store morphed into a cornucopia of toys, games, dolls, bikes and sports equipment. I would visit every week until Christmas when the holiday merchandise disappeared, and the boring tools and clothes returned to the shelves.
One of my very first real summer jobs was as a summer associate at the Sears in the newly opened Clarksville store. I worked there for three summers. It was a sweet gig for the most part. I worked in paint, furniture and floated. It was air conditioned, a not-unimportant benefit for summers in southern Indiana. It was quiet in the afternoons, so you could goof off and pitch pennies. The pay was decent and, most important, it kept my ever helpful dad from getting me a position at the veneer mill. There were some bad moments — selling women’s underwear and mixing the wrong paint colors. Who knew there were so many shades of blue?
The summer after my first year of law school, I worked in the law department of the Sears Midwestern offices in Skokie. I worked on slip-and-fall claim files. It was boring, but it was good preparation for my career as an insurance lawyer. We did have a few interesting cases. The best was the customer who was injured trying to go up the down escalator. Understandable once you learned another customer was relieving himself at the bottom of the escalator. We settled.
When I worked at Sears, it was like playing for the Jordan Bulls. We were the best. Service and products were top-notch. The full-time employees knew everything about the stuff they were selling. We guaranteed satisfaction. We would take back anything and everything, including lawn furniture bought on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby and returned the following Monday. Then there was the wedding dress returned with makeup on the veil.
It pained me to witness the slow demise of this retail giant. Emptying shelves, absent staff, and shoddy stores slowly took its toll. It was pitiful to watch the decline.
I get it: Sears like many retailers battled and capsized in the heavy Amazon winds. It is the way of the commercial world. The iron law of supply and demand must be obeyed.
Sears was a great company for a long time.
That should count for something.