My wife didn’t like my shoes and we had to be at an Oak Forest social gathering in 40 minutes.
“If you would have told me you didn’t have any shoes, I could have gotten you some today when I was out.”
“I have a closet full of shoes,” I said.
“You’re not wearing any of those.”
So where could we get shoes on the way to this event in 40 minutes? Sears, I thought. I verbalized this where my wife could hear it.
“OK,” she said. “I guess they will have some.”
Sears was on the way and we were at the door of the 4000 N. Shepherd Sears in five minutes. I hadn’t been in this store in decades. Many years ago my parents took me to the Sears on Shepherd to get school clothes. We lived in the Aldine area then. In the early 1970s, before Greenspoint Mall, the Shepherd Sears was the best place.
Since then, I grew out of Sears’ Toughskins jeans and my wife and I have lived in different cities in the United States but I never forgot about that Sears store.
And recently, with the news Sears might close all stores if it can’t get out of bankruptcy, I think many of us are remembering Sears. This area has been lucky to have such a strong and an iconic store. Just look at all of the memories published in this week’s Leader. Sears has closed hundreds of locations over the last decade, yet the Shepherd store has kept the lights on. Even the latest store closing doesn’t list Shepherd. A nice lady at the Shepherd store told me last week the store plans to remain open.
Yet one out of one businesses die. Sears will go away despite being with us since the 1800s. Today, Sears is considered stodgy and outdated, but it was once a great disrupter, much the way Amazon is now.
The Sears catalog changed shopping in rural America. One hundred years ago, local merchants were complaining about the Sears catalog stealing sales. The catalog had everything. You could even order a house from it. There are still Sears houses being lived in. I’ve seen one.
In the 1970s and early ‘80s, we always had a Sears catalog in our house. As a kid, I spent hours looking at the Sears holiday catalog. Most of the stuff I circled or tore out, I didn’t get. And looking back that was probably a good thing.
If you look at revenue, peak Sears occurred in the early 1990s. Back then Sears was involved in fixing cars, selling insurance, giving credit, selling socks and even peddling stocks. Sears did what the business schools preached. It diversified and it expanded. But it still wasn’t enough.
Business is hard.
One other thing that needs to be mentioned: Sears stopped advertising in newspapers. They stopped putting circulars in America’s newspapers and relied heavily on email marketing. I would have told them that wouldn’t end well and not even charged them for the advice.
I admit that I wanted to go into the Shepherd Drive Sears store more out of something nostalgic than thinking it would have shoes that would pass my wife’s inspection. I went through the front doors with curiosity. There have been media reports of Sears stores begging for a remodel and shabby conditions.
As a business owner, I often look for signs of distress or success when going into a shop. It comes from years of selling advertising to small businesses and trying to determine if Mom and Pop can pay the ad bill without me actually peeking at their balance sheet.
The Shepherd store looked good, better than I expected. My wife headed straight for men’s shoes while I lingered in the aisles. The shelves weren’t barren. People were in there shopping. The store didn’t have fragrances in the air or a trendy vibe like an Aeropostale but that has never been Sears.
We got the shoes and I didn’t create a fashion gaffe, at least not a big one. The cashiers were nice. My wife smiled. I got to relive the past. There was a happy ending.
I just hope things end as well for Sears.
Robb Reeves is a friend to Leader publisher Jonathan McElvy and occasional contributor to this page.