Tears for Sears: The Rise and Fall of the Once Great American Retail Empire

Tears for Sears: The Rise and Fall of the Once Great American Retail Empire

In 1886 America was continuing the Westward Expansion. The Transcontinental Railroad could connect the East and West coasts bringing mail and goods from either direction. The South was still reconstructing after being defeated in The Civil War. People like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Billy The Kid, Nat Love, and Bat Masterson were growing legends in the Wild West. A new company emerged that year selling watches by catalog all over the growing and prosperous nation. Richard W Sears and Alvah C Roebuck started the Sears Watch Company. In 1889 Sears sold his business to become a rural banker in Iowa, but the venture fell flat. In 1892 he returned to Chicago to begin selling watches and Jewelry again with Roebuck. The Company was called the A.C. Roebuck Watch company until in 1893 it became the company that a lot of people would call it to even in the present day Sears-Roebuck.

Tears for Sears: The Rise and Fall of the Once Great American Retail Empire

The company expanded their catalog business by selling clothing, dry goods, livestock, sewing machines, groceries, houses, stoves, dolls, and even cars by catalogs. Sears was truly the Amazon of its day. In 1925 Sears opened its first retail store in Chicago. In the 1930's it introduced the Wishbook which would be a yearly Christmas staple until the 2000's. In the Rural communities of the South and Midwest, the children would often look at and circle things that they wished they could have but knowing the parents may not be able to afford it. During this time Sears also grew their store business with the opening stores in suburban and downtown areas which grew into the 1950's and 1960's shopping center and mall craze. Sears became the home of exclusive brands that became household names such as Die Hard, Kenmore, Craftsman, and Allstate insurance. Sears also dipped its toes in the water of banking and investment services with the founding of Dean Witter Reynolds Stock Brokerage firm and Coldwell Banker Real Estate company. in 1984 they partnered with CBS and IBM to introduce the first internet service available to American households called Prodigy. in 1985 they also introduced the Discover Card. It seemed like Sears was on a roll driving a gravy train with biscuit wheels. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently A lot.

Tears for Sears: The Rise and Fall of the Once Great American Retail Empire

The 1990's came along. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart were building stores in middle-class suburban neighborhoods. These stores offered deep discounts and in-store services Sears just couldn't offer such as In-Store Pharmacies. In 1993 Sears shut down its catalog operations for good and focused solely on stores. The discontinuation of catalogs hurt Sears business and in 2005 Kmart bought Sears and they merged into Sears Holdings. Sears tried to bounce back with the concept of a Superstore called Sears Grand which was their version of a Super Walmart or Meijer. However, this did not last as Sears entered the hypermarket operations too late. Kmart had troubles of its own as they had filed bankruptcy in the past as well and many stores were in disrepair. In the last few years, Sears has sold off its brands such as Allstate. Craftsman was sold to Stanley/Black & Decker and can be found sold in Lowe's and Ace Hardware stores.

So, what happens if Sears files for Bankruptcy?

Within the last few days, the news has been Sears is close to filing for Bankruptcy which stores have been closing left and right for the past 5 years. Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert has stated he wants to buy the Kenmore brand. However, he does not have a good track record as he has not put any money into revitalizing the run down Sears and Kmart stores, nor has he invested much in the employees. He is hoping for a Chapter 11 which would see the closure of 150 stores immediately and keep 300 around till the end of the Holiday Season. However, most Americans and the creditors think Sears will be heading for Chapter 7 which means total liquidation. They are $143 Million in debt and only have $6 in their bank account. The debt is due on October 15th, which is Tomorrow. Several suppliers have also turned away from Sears saying they have not been paid for their products. Such was the case with Whirpool in 2017. 89,000 employees could lose pensions. Shop Your Way points could also be dissolved, and the warranties on Die Hard batteries and Kenmore appliances could become null and void. However, Sears says it's working on a plan to stand behind its product warranties. There is more in the link here concerning warranties. Home Depot and Lowe's would become the leaders in appliance sales.

As you can see on Friday Sears was trading for as low as 41 cents a share on the NYSE. I think it's time to do with Sears like what was done to Old Yeller. Take it out behind the woodshed and end it. I feel sorry for those possibly losing jobs and pensions, but at this point, it's been dying for over 20 years, and it needs to be put out of its misery.

Some of the stuff in the catalogs looks like its still in the stores 🤣🤣

This is a interactive timeline with the History of Sears

This is from Sears 100th anniversary in 1986. Look at what all they owned and how massive they were! And the cheesy red 1980s sweaters and choir.



Tears for Sears: The Rise and Fall of the Once Great American Retail Empire
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Most Helpful Guys

  • NearlyNapping
    Sears used to be considered the best retailer out there. They were voted the most trusted retailer for a long time. Their brands were well known with a good reputation, and excellent warranty.

    Their Craftsman tools had a lifetime warranty, which Sears always honored with no questions. My father once took in an old wrench from the 1940s and they exchanged it for a new one. I've bought many tools from Sears, especially mechanic tools. I still have the Craftsmen tools I bought in the 70s and 80s, plus some older ones I bought used. The warranty is on the tool, regardless of who owns it.

    Sears has been having problems for a long time. Back in the early 80s they had a series of what I'd call panic decisions. They kept making changes (which I thought were bad), then reversed themselves. Then try something else. It's like they had no idea which direction they were going, and were running the show by trial and error.

    Sears was a down home kind of place. They did very well in rural areas which did not have enough population for larger retail stores. Small towns would have a small store front. They would have a few appliances out front, and a counter in the back to pick up catalog orders. It was small with low overhead. But with catalog sales, people in rural areas could buy the same things as big city folks.

    Sears were everywhere. Sears was my first credit card. Same for many other people. I traveled a lot. If I ever needed anything, including auto repairs, I could count on there being a Sears to get what I needed.

    But Sears just didn't keep it's image. It was highly respected by my fathers generation. My generation (the boomers) were also Sears goers, but not quite as much as our parents.

    Sears was a working man's store. During the affluent 80s and 90s, people started buying more expensive "designer" brands. Sears didn't keep up it's image with the coming generations. People were on a money high, and weren't interested in practical down-to-earth quality merchandise. They wanted flashy. Sears just didn't fit the bill any more.

    Sears was one of the first national retailers to sell computers. Electronics was one of the things they did fairly well at. But with the open architecture of PCs, the mom and pop builders could easily undercut Sears.

    Anyway, I hate to see them go. But the writing has been on the wall for more than 30 years. I'm kind of surprised they lasted this long.
    Like 3 People
    Is this still revelant?
  • JackJPershing
    No surprise. Big box retailers who have not adapted to the new economy are doomed. Malls that will survive are ditching reliance on anchor stores for things like carnivals and carousels and roller coasters (Mall of America).
    Like 1 Person
    Is this still revelant?
    • If Kmart hadn't bought Sears they may have adapted

    • Curmudgeon

      In fairness, the "big box" retailers were/are more specialized, and were the first blow at department stores like Sears. Indeed, many lesser department stores have already gone under.

Most Helpful Girl

  • DeeDeeDeVour
    Hasn't S&R filed for bankruptcy along with K-mart already in the past?

    "Tears for Sears" is catchy portion of your title. Are you also a fan or Roland & Curt? :)
    Like 4 People
    Is this still revelant?
    • I liked it because I was thinking of the 1980's which was the last time Sears was on top and Tears for Fears was a band. Yes I think they did go bankrupt once before in the 2000's I know KMart did in 2001 which they bought Sears just 4 years later

    • bubbatxman

      Sears really just had Craftsman and Kenmore in the 1980’s. As the 80’s ended the investment banker types started milking the Sears cash cow and now the cow is begging for some milk back and will die soon. To be fair, Sears has been “dead” for 20 years, but The CEO kept buying assets away from the company to keep it alive.

    • @smahala1991: Thanks for the MHGirl pick. :)

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • vishna
    There's a big Sears at my local mall. Sad to see them go, but they didn't really have anything I'd want. The clothes weren't bad or anything, I'd just get them other places where the deals were better or there was a card. My family never had a Sears card, so, we just never shopped there.
    Like 2 People
    • My family did we loved Sears and Kmart. Sears was our appliance and tire store

    • vishna

      did you shop at Toys R Us? a lot of people were sad to see it "go" but my family never went there and I was very eh but then I heard it's coming back! After I already went to the closing out sale

    • I did go quite a bit but not a whole lot. My grandma loved the Holiday Barbie dolls they had

    • Show All
  • BCRanger10
    I'll miss them. I have a tiny bit of a soft spot for them because when I was little and my siblings and I would ask our dad where we came from, he'd tell us "we bought you at Sears."
    Like 1 Person
    • well you could buy about anything there lol

  • WalterRadio
    Basically, the Sears CEO was an idiot.

    Sears had the distribution infrastructure to take the catalog business to internet and absolutely dominate it, but their CEO refused to do so.

    And what happened instead? A book seller is now the richest man in the world.
    Like 1 Person
  • zagor
    Years of bad management. The management that took over in the previous decade had no interest in keeping the stores as a going concern and was primarily interested in the real estate value of the stores that were owned by the company. They weren't willing to put any money into the stores.

    About 3 years ago I needed new luggage and went to Sears first; all their display luggage was in a big pile on the floor, covered with dust. I bought elsewhere.
    Like 1 Person
  • SarahsSummer
    Times a changing. The once ubiquitous US department Store is going away.
    Like 2 People
  • ATuairiscean
    I agree with your assessment - I feel sorry for the workers, the boss gets a runny nose and the workers get pneumonia that is capitalism for you.
    Like 2 People
  • slatyb
    Adapt or die. Sears failed to adapt, now they are dead.
    Like 1 Person
  • matchrestore
    I bought appliances there in the past, but never really did any of my other shopping there.
    Like 1 Person
  • TeddyBaer75
    At least we still have the beautiful Sears Tower!
    Huh? whatcha talkin' 'bout Willis?
    Like 2 People
  • Paris13
    Nice One, hun.
    Too bad Trump wasn't in office Sooner to Save their Day. KMarts too. xx
  • bubbatxman
    How can a chain with just 700 stores have 68,000 employees? That almost 100 per store?
    • Count in Kmart as well, and distribution centers

    Great take / l blame Amazon
    Like 1 Person
  • CT_CD
    RIP Sears
    Like 1 Person
  • legalboxers
    sears was an amazing place. I use to love sears
    Like 1 Person
  • yulbsari
    End of an era...