Remembering Sears

Sears ad.jpg

I stumbled upon this vintage Sears ad while searching for something else the other day. It was published in the October 1925 edition of McCall’s Magazine, some 93 years ago this month. It’s classic twenties advertising, heavy on text and selling a state of mind and a lifestyle rather than product.

I’ve thought about Sears a lot lately, especially since their recent bankruptcy filing. Most of the stores in my area have already closed and honestly, I didn’t shop there much in recent years. Craftsman tools have long been and remain a staple in my family. When I started my first real job as a local newspaper reporter most of my dress clothes came from there – cute little pant suits with matching scarves and nice skirt sets were readily available for reasonable prices.

But then they started making it hard to love them. Poor selection in dress clothes became the norm and what they had started to look tacky. A terrible experience with the service department severely damaged my attitude toward my closest store.

The stores had the overall feel that they wanted to keep up with the times but didn’t know how. And that seems positively tragic to me.

I mean, Sears began in a time when people depended on small neighborhood and general stores for everything they needed. Their mail order catalogs were essentially the Amazon of their day. During their hay day, you could literally buy anything you wanted from the Sears catalog. Sure, you could buy a doll, a suit of clothes and a kitchen table. You could also buy livestock and even an entire house.

If you needed it, chances are Sears could sell it to you.

In a lot of ways, the Sears catalog opened the world to people in rural areas who had mail delivery but limited access to stores.

I heard a story recently about how Sears also aided people of color who were refused service in stores but who could mail order anything they wanted. I hadn’t even thought about it from that perspective. 

Sears defined the mail order catalog and they set the gold standard with their department store model. They reinvented themselves many times over their 125 year history. To think they just couldn’t figure it out one more time is pretty sad.

When I was a kid we called the Sears catalog the Wish Book and we looked forward to its arrival every Christmas. I would dog-ear pages and draw circles around all the things I longed to find under the tree that year.

The above ad reads in part  “There is no catalog number for ‘happiness,’ but we sell it just the same. You’ll not find it illustrated, but it appears on every page.”

That’s pretty smart advertising if you ask me.

A lot has changed since 1925. Too bad Sears didn’t keep up. What’s your favorite Sears memory? Tell me about it in the comments!

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