Sears: A corporate legend whose time passed

Sears. Roebuck & Company played a big role in our lives as kids in the 50s and 60s.

While living in Farmville, Va in the 50s, we looked forward to trips to Richmond for back to school clothing and supplies at the Sears store in Midlothian.  Our parents also took us there for Christmas and for Easter clothes.

In the 60s, the Sears “everything” store was on Williamson Road in Roanoke in an area called, appropriately, “Sears Town.”  We combed through the new catalogs when they arrived in the mail at home.

My older brother and I bought our first hunting shotguns from the Sears catalog.

When I took my first daily newspaper reporting job at The Roanoke Times, I bought my first color television set from Sears.  When I needed new tires, Sears often offered the best prices on tires.

Later, when I joined The Telegraph in Alton, IL, the major department store downtown was a Sears.  When a new shopping mall later opened, Sears became an anchor store.

Sears Tower in Chicago dominated the city’s skyline.

I bought Craftsman tools from Sears, knowing that if a ratchet wrench broke, I could take it any local Sears and they would exchange it for a new one at no charge.

Sears began to lose some of its luster during out time in the St. Louis area.  By the time we moved to the Washington metro area we might buy something there from time to time but other stores became our destination for other things.

The Sears store at Valley View mall in Roanoke closed not long after we moved to Floyd.  Other closing followed.  Same for K-Mart, owned by the hedge-fund operator, Edward S. Lampert, who sold off the company’s valuable brands like Craftsman and put more than 250,000 employees on the street without jobs.

Sears filed for bankruptcy protection early Monday with plans to immediately close 142 of its remaining stores with $300 million in loans to try to run what is left through the holidays.

The once-great retailer has $11.3 billion in liabilities and $7 billion in assets.

“It’s a sad day for American retail,” Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail research and consulting firm, told The Washington Post. “There are generations of people who grew up on Sears and now it’s not relevant. When you are in the retail business, it’s all about newness. But Sears stopped innovating.”

Angry Sears employees say Lambert stripped out most of Sears’ valuable properties and brands and sold them to companies owned by ESL Holdings, his hedge-fund.  He claims he wants to turn Sears into an online retail operation like Amazon.

That won’t be easy.  Companies like Toys “R” Us tried to do the same but went out of business when lenders decided they were no longer viable.  The bankruptcy filing by Sears today came on a day when it owed a $134 million debt service payment and the company is out of cash.

In many ways, Sears was the Amazon of it time, but that time has passed.

© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse