What Happened to Sears?

What Happened to Sears?

As a little boy I sprinted to the curb as I saw the mail truck stopping at each mailbox on the way to mine. The buzz of electric excitement was felt swirling in the air when waking up that morning, after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.  The fervor I felt as my toes touched the floor, launching me out the door exclaiming, “It’s Christmas Time!”

The utter sadness I felt each day the mailman would say, “not yet, Mikey.” I would have to wait for my treasure to come in the mail! I knew it had arrived when I saw his enchanted smile as he maneuvered the bulky catalog into our mailbox, I squirmed impatiently wanting to run outside and grab it from him. When I finally had my prize, an aura of joy and excitement would grow around me as I peered into it, a catalog of everything.  It was the Sears Christmas catalog!

Sears, Roebuck and Company was founded in 1893 by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck. Sears, shortly after his father died in 1879, purchased a watch shipment that the distributor he worked for had refused, and was able to make a small profit from their sale. In 1886 he opened R. W. Sears Watch Company, a mail-order catalog company.  That same year Sears met Roebuck who had become a watch repairman at age 12, and in 1893 the opened Sears, Roebuck, and Co. as partners. The companies catalog became known as the ‘Consumers’ Bible’.

Pressure from competition with Walmart and Best Buy became a threat in the late 1990s, causing management to do such things as converting full-time employees to part-time in an effort to cut expenses.  Additional pressure on the company came from the increase of the price to distribute merchandise via mail, resulting in the discontinuation of its mail order catalog in 1993. The end of the Sears catalog led to the dismissal of the 50,000 employees who filled orders. Unfortunately, management had not been able to foresee the future of the internet – the company already had the purchase by mail infrastructure it took online companies, like Amazon, years to build.

In 2004, Kmart purchased and completely merged with the company, forming Sears Holdings. By 2010 the company was no longer making a profit. Eddie Lampert, who founded ESL Investments in 1988, became CEO of Sears Holding in 2013 and planned to make the company profitable again by cutting costs and selling the real estate of underperforming stores.

Although it lost $10.4 billion from 2011 to 2016, in 2015 Sears Holding was still the nation’s 20th-largest retail company in the United States. Unfortunately, on October 15, 2018, the company filed for bankruptcy, and sold its assets to ESL Investments in 2019.  Sears Holdings was closed after the new owner placed these assets under ownership of its new subsidiary Transform Holdco LLC.

19 thoughts on “What Happened to Sears?

  1. I have a copy of the 1902 Sears Catalogue and it is the most interesting thing I have ever seen. You can buy a house, car and the list goes on and on.
    I love to look at it and the fashions were really something to see back then.

    1. In 1965 I showed my parents a silvertone electric guitar from the Sears catalog and they suprised me with it on Christmas morning.
      It was.a.magical store in a magical time . All gone now, but I have those memories

  2. I was a Sears customer from 1963 till 2016 when I purchased my riding mower. Can recall my son and daughters excitement when the Christmas catalog would arrive. They would list toys for Santa to bring. I was very sad to see it go.

  3. There was always a Sears catalog in our Outhouse – You could sit and read it and then tear out a page to use!
    We never had “toilet paper” while I was growing up. Always a page from the old catalog!!

  4. I can remember as far back as the 1950’s of getting the catalogs. We always bought the Kenmore brands of appliances. I still have a snow blower purchased in 2002. And their Craftsman tools were outstanding with their lifetime warranty.

  5. I recall the excitement of getting the Sears and J. C. Penney catalogs. It was very sad to see how the companies went downhill. Sears quality and service began to drop off and sales dropped off with it.One could see the end coming once they partnered with K Mart.

  6. Beginning in 1969 until 1983 my children would wait with excited expectation while waiting for the Christmas catalog to come in the mail. They would huddle together on the couch as they thumbed through page by page and made their lists for Christmas. I was never allowed to celebrate Christmas growing up, but I did sew most of my clothes from age 10 and used the Sears catalog to get my ideas. Then when my grandkids got old enough I would sit with them and go through the Sears Christmas catalog while they pointed out to me what they wanted for Christmas. It is so sad that Sears is no longer with us.

  7. I stopped shopping at Sears in 1986 when they refused to accept any form of payment from me other than their own credit card. They would not take a check, a visa, a mastercard, or even cash! They insisted That I get a sears credit card or a Discover card. So I left my several hundred dollar purchase at the register and never returned. A company must decide what their business is and not try to force their customers to buy products they don’t want.

  8. I too enjoyed Sears catalogs as a youngster. I don’t blame John for ditching Sears after their treatment of him. A business has to remember that they are here to make their customers happy, not the other way around.

  9. I have fond memories of the huge ( 3 floors) SEARS store in downtown Twin Falls, Idaho. The name Sears and Roebuck was spelled out in green neon! It was the biggest store in town and one of the few buildings with an elevator! My brother and I would go there just to ride that elevator! Upon entering the store we were greeted with the aroma of fresh buttery popcorn and visually enticed by the long curved glass candy counter! Our parents did all of their Christmas shopping at Sears which early on initiated a charge card program. It was also the only store in town where you could meet Santa Claus! It is sad to see such an American institution fail, they just didn’t adapt with the times, yet our memories and many of the bricks and mortar stores live on to be re-purposed.

  10. We bought our appliances for our first home back in 1975 the frigid is still working …..brought other appliances for my places in Az back in 1996 and then another place in 2003 they all still working….now we need appliances for another home and I don’t know were to buy new appliances.

  11. I used to make my own bikes with spare parts 1973 I bought my first brand new bike from sear It was a five speed banana seat color orange
    I think it cost $60 beautiful I had a lot of fun with it Sears was a family store It was located on Fordham Road and Webster ave in the Bronx

  12. My memories of the Sears catalog as a kid takes me back to the late nineteen forties when my uncle Aron Thompson kept one in his four holler outdoors. I believe my parents ordered my Christmas out of that same catalog.

  13. I worked in a Sears catalog warehouse in Memphis. I can say they had pulling orders, packing and shipping down to a fine science. They were Amazon before Amazon was Amazon. I believe the sudden growth of Walmart spooked Corporate management leading to a loss of vision for the company. Also, unfortunately for Sears the internet came about a little to late for them. It was a good company.

  14. I remember my parents getting all Kenmore products. They also bought us clothes .
    Kenmore Sears repairman coming out to our house to take care of the products.
    Sears was the household name.

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