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Harris Blackwood: Looking for survival in Sears Roebuck
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Richard Sears was a railroad freight agent in North Redwood Falls, Minn.

In 1886, a shipment of watches was refused by a Minnesota retailer. Sears worked out a deal with the wholesaler to sell the watches. Within six months, he made $5,000 and moved to Minneapolis and started the R.W. Sears Watch Co.

He hired a watch repairman named Alvah Roebuck and eventually formed Sears, Roebuck & Co. The business struggled at first and Roebuck eventually left the company.

By the turn of the century, the 500-page Sears catalog was sent to 300,000 homes and the business was thriving. Sears eventually became a benchmark for business strength.

I had an uncle who used to say that something good or sturdy was “as solid as Sears.”

Georgia Gov. Gene Talmadge is often quoted as saying, “The poor, old dirt farmer ain’t got but three friends on this Earth: God almighty, Sears Roebuck and Gene Talmadge.”

In 1993, Sears printed its last giant catalog. The company began focusing on its retail stores. Today, like many other retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling in the face of competition from the internet.

Sears had many brands along the way. I remember wearing Roebuck jeans. They were advertised as “friendly fittin’ as a Western saddle.” I later graduated to Toughskins, which had double knees for rough and tumble boys.

Perhaps the greatest brand of Sears products was its Craftsman line of tools. My daddy didn’t think there was a finer tool than Craftsman. They were guaranteed forever. He had a wrench that somehow was broken. He had it for many years, but took it back to a Sears store. They handed him a new one. No questions asked.

The company recently announced they were selling the Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker. Stanley is also a good tool brand and Black & Decker is known for power tools. I’m glad the brand will continue, but it was like the sale of an old friend.

My dad was one of those World War II era men who could do about anything with his hands. He was a decent carpenter, electrician, plumber and cook. We spent a lot of time trying to keep old cars running. There was a place under an old pecan tree in the backyard that was our garage under the stars. I was the chief flashlight holder, but often frustrated Dad by taking the beam off the place he needed it. There were other things to look at.

I want Sears to succeed. But I think the Sears I want really doesn’t exist anymore. I want to get another copy of the Sears Christmas catalog, better known as the Wish Book. I want to see the dog-eared pages of the toys I want Santa to bring. I want to put on a pair of Toughskins and go rolling in the yard.

I think I also miss the time when working in retail was a career. I can remember going to stores such as Sears and the clerks knew my parents by name. They would make sure my new shoes fit property and there was room to grow.

Unfortunately, the brick-and-mortar retail store is on life support and I’m refusing to wake up from a dream that sees otherwise.

 

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

 

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