The changing landscape

The days of going to the store are now a thing of the past.  Places like Montgomery Ward, Service Merchandise, Kmart, Woolco, and yes, even the mighty Sears are gone forever.

Their are no more catalogs for spring, summer, fall and yes Christmas.  The Christmas catalog was especially used around the house by the kids because that’s where the toy section was along with all the other items in the store that were on sale.  You could pay cash, use a store credit card or layaway.  There was no such thing as MasterCard, Visa, or any other national card other than maybe Diner’s Club.  The age of the department store credit cards were in full swing and nobody had a bigger selection of items and a huge list of credit card customers than Sears Roebuck and Co.

Walking into a Sears store, you knew that anything you wanted or needed was under one roof.  The Sears Credit card was the “go to” card for anything from gasoline to refrigerators.  They had house brands that were backed by incredible warranties and over the doors stood a sign that read “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.”  Hard to get that kind of commitment in this day and age.

There were quality house brands like Kenmore, Craftsman, Die Hard and Sears itself.  For over 100 years, Sears, Montgomery Wards and others stood ready to accommodate any need from the consumer as long as they could walk through the door.  No cash, no problem.  If you couldn’t get a “revolving credit card” there was always layaway on certain items.

Need tires, a battery, brakes,exhaust system, radio or gasoline for your car?  Just go over to the auto center and they’ll take care of you.  Hours were always 9 to 9 daily and reduced hours on Sunday.  There was never a “black Friday”, one the day after Thanksgiving sale.  There was no ordering online because there wasn’t an online, just a catalog.  Sometimes, you would meet neighbors and friends under the roof of the local department store as they shopped for items such as back to school clothes, rakes and shovels for the garden or a freezer to keep the frozen items longer. 

There were catalogs for every season and Sears in particularly, had the largest publishing entity just for their catalogs.  Catalogs were used as doorstops in the summer and to keep the kids quiet around the holidays as they stared at the Christmas catalog.  As things happened in life, the necessities that had to happen when you didn’t have the money went of the “revolving charge.”  My parents called their Sears card a “dead horse” because it was used for everything and before the card was paid off, something else had to be charged.  Their Sears card had a balance from when they opened it in 1955 until 1972.  It was almost like a mortgage burning when that card was finally paid off.

The department stores are going by way of the grand theaters which use to light up a downtown and downtown shopping with independent stores right along side the big chain stores almost like existing in harmony with each other.  People had their preferences and nobody thought any different of them.  Everything was planned out with the daily newspaper for that had the secret treasure map to everything needed for the house or the refrigerator.  Saturday mornings would see the parents pouring over the paper for coupons and sales from grocery to department stores.  There was only one store in town that had both dry goods and groceries but that was downtown. 

A trip to the department store was just as much of a treat as going to McDonalds or out to eat.  Today, the restaurants are doing alright and McDonalds has pretty much become a staple of life.  Gone is the interaction of people even in grocery stores.  Just like in the days of the past, you can get your groceries delivered.  You don’t have to call anyone.  All you have to do is order it from your phone and they bring it to the door.  Sometimes they will, if you pay extra, come inside and stock your shelves for you.

Communications are usually done with phones or through the Internet.  Personal interactions sometimes are as awkward as walking into a strangers wedding.  If you see someone you know, it’s usually a quick hello and some small talk before the business of getting what you want and getting the hell out of there becomes the priority.

The acres of parking has given way to the delivery truck and the big box stores are coming down at an extinction rate.  Now it’s a chore to go to the store for things like clothing, appliances, televisions and pretty much anything else.  Now you just have to order it and it will be there the next day.  The time of trying on a pair of shoes in the store or a dress in the fitting room is gone.  Now you keep your fingers crossed hoping you get the right size, color or model online.  If now, just ship it back for a refund.  Just in case you’re keeping score you’ve just spent a couple of days getting what you could have gotten in an hour if you went to the big box store.  You surely would have walked away with the size, design and color you wanted or the appliance, furniture or television you were looking for. 

Every good thing has to come to an end and I guess the end of department stores have gone by way of the mall.  Malls use to be the place to get what you wanted from a variety of stores including the big box stores which held the “anchor” locations.  The malls are coming down just as fast as the department stores leaving in their wake either vacant land or a development that blends into the neighborhood stripping it from its individuality. 

In case your asking yourself about the picture at the top, that’s what’s left of my local Sears store.  The same store my parents shopped at for over 30 years.  It’s the same store where my aunt was the assistant personnel manager for over 25 years and yes, the same store where I worked for a couple of years in high school.  It’s individuality will be replaced with some cookie cutter design and the memories of the once giant store will fade just like memories of the five and dime. 

Soon people will look at you funny when you remissness about seeing Santa at the department store or buying a television or clothes from the same place under the same roof.  They will snicker when you speak of the escalator from a company named Otis that not only lit up but talked with instructions about safety as you rode to the second floor. 

 There are things that are coming back into fashion like the drive-in movies.  Those were plentiful during the 50s and 60s throughout the landscape of America but someone figured the land could be utilized by something more “progressive.”  The acreage was substantial, just like the big box store so it was beneficial to acquire the land for development. 

When the Sears store that is being razed right now was built, the floors were polished and the inside was spotless.  I looked at some video of the final days of the store and the place was still spotless with polished floors.  The only difference was the inventory dwindled to almost nothing like most store closings have. 

One problem the wrecking company will have is the thick floor in the service center which was so thick, you could put 20 cars on the floor along with the lifts and not put a dent into the basement stock area below.  Yes, the service center that serviced all those cars in the 57 years it was open, had a full basement complete with a host of inventory to fit any car.  The memories will fade along with time and the things from the past will either end up in the history books or just forgotten about altogether. 

For now though, the memories and thoughts flood the mind as what was prevalent becomes rubble.

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