While there is no official word about the long term viability of Sears, for now, the store on North Shepherd will remain open. Still, the news of more store closings and of the company’s bankruptcy has stirred many memories of the location in Garden Oaks.
For numerous people The Leader heard from, it was the candy counter that loomed large in their memories.
“My mother enjoyed shopping,” said Stephen Johnson. “As a youngster fearing boredom, I resisted the annual school clothes trip to the [Garden Oaks] Sears. “My canny mother ensured compliance by reminding me of the Sears candy counter — the finest I’d ever seen. I still think of that candy counter, though it has been gone many years. My sympathy to those who never had that experience.”
“As a child I would often accompany my dad on trips to purchase tools or lawn and garden items and I quickly learned that if I got ‘lost’ they would take me to the snack stand in the middle of the store and give me candy and popcorn while paging the store for parents that were missing a child,” said Russell Gonzalez. “They quickly learned who I was and my dad instructed them to stop rewarding my behavior. I always was a resourceful kid.”
Rose Sinclair said that her family moved to Oak Forest in 1950, when she was seven. She remembers many shopping trips as well as the annual visit to Santa Claus.
“Often we would go look at the toys on display also,” said Sinclair. “I think we bought some glass Christmas ornaments for our tree there. We still have some of those delicate, fragile reminders of Christmases long ago.
We also have some ‘new’ plastic ornaments that came out in the 1950s that I think came from Sears. It was our ‘go-to’ store for most things, and my parents would be very sad to see the store in bankruptcy now.”
For some, Sears was their introduction to the wider world – for better and for worse.
“When I was five or six, or maybe a little earlier, I remember stopping to get a drink from a water fountain near the entry door,” said Jeff Kirk. “It was the first time I saw a sign designating a water fountain for ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ people.”
But what some may not realize is that Sears – according to a Vox.com interview with Louis Hyman, a work historian at Cornell University and the director of the Institute for Workplace Studies – is that the company, through its mail order catalog, gave black Americans, specifically those who lived in the rural South, the ability to shop just as easily as their white counterparts.
“Sears wasn’t setting out to be the anti-racist catalog,” Hyman told Vox. “It was setting out to replace Montgomery Ward…With Sears, they were like, ‘We’ll just let people get credit with us.’ It was an amazing, kind of crazy thing to do in an era with no FICO scores or credit ratings. And unintentionally, they started to disrupt this Jim Crow system. Once they learned what was happening, they supported it.”
Sears gave financial independence to many couples just starting out. Heights resident Jane Broyles said that over the years, she and her family purchased much of their clothing at Sears as well as appliances and tools.
“Sears was the first place during the early phase of our marriage that extended us a ‘credit line’ and I am convinced that their willingness to do so enabled us to get a car loan – and later our first Master Card and Visa,” said Broyles. “I will miss the aroma of the popcorn from their candy department even though I only bought their ‘malted milk’ candy.”
Sears has their share of devotees to the present day.
“I love that Sears,” said Leah Salinas. “It has saved me in many binds getting band pants for my son. Also a great value on dress clothes for boys. We shop there often.”
Kim Alderete said that their abundance of baby gear was appreciated.
“I realized with my twin babies I needed more onesies and bibs and I would jet over there,” she said.
While many are glad that the store will stay open for now, they mourn the potential future.
“Great store, better service than most and we have multiple appliances from there,” said Matthew Finnegan. “It will be a loss.”