November 1, 2017

Sears: The End of an Era

Recently, my coworkers and I were discussing the impact of the demise of Sears Canada when one of them said, "That means no more Wish Book, I guess." A sudden rush of memories hit me. Sears was not only the place where I had, for the past several years, purchased my socks and underwear, it was the stuff of childhood dreams as well. How my brother and I pored over those Christmas Wish Book catalogues, marking the things we wanted and discussing them in detail! Kids all over the country did the same with their own treasured copies of that Wish Book every year. The Wish Book was tradition with a capital T. From the gaudy fruit cakes to the plush monogrammed bath robes, the annual Holiday Barbie to the wood burning kits, gift ideas pored forth from the pages and filled our young heads with 'visions of sugarplums' throughout the dark days of November and December.

If I remember correctly Sears came out with a new catalogue every season. Or maybe there were only two per year plus the Wish Book. Whatever the case, while the Spring and Summer catalogues were not nearly as fun as the Wish Book I still went through them page by page (We only had two television channels at our house). I longed for a white canopy bed with Holly Hobby bedspread and accessories until I was in my teens. Many nights I lay awake wishing hard for the sudden appearance in my closet of a certain black velveteen outfit complete with trousers, button up vest, jacket and skirt. How smart I would look at school, I thought. I replaced all my parents' mismatched living room furniture with turquoise French Provincial sofas and Lazy-boy recliners - in my imagination, at least. The Sears catalogue represented a lifestyle quite foreign to me, where parents bought their children huge Barbie houses and Bugs Bunny bedroom curtains. The minimal exposure I had to daytime soap operas convinced me their characters shopped at Sears. Their living rooms were always perfectly clean, serene and decorated like in the catalogues.

Sears, in my hometown, and many towns like it, was not a brick and mortar store. It was a small counter, if memory serves, at the local Greyhound bus depot, where mail orders were given and picked up after a long awaited phone call. The only other department-type store in our town at the time was Woolworth's, so Sears offered many things we could not shop for in person. My parents ordered their trusty Kenmore appliances with excellent extended warranties from Sears. My older sisters were always ordering new clothes from the latest Sears catalogue, and often, due to them not fitting properly, sending them back. I suppose one could say the Sears catalogue and other catalogues like them were the precursor to today's online shopping, which is ironic since online shopping is being blamed for the demise of Sears. The entire retail landscape is going through a major shift, and I do not think we can blame only one thing for that major shift. Sure, online shopping is often a great source for a better value - my daughter's Otter Box for her iphone purchased recently for half the price of the one available at our local Best Buy, for example. I think globalization, saturated retail markets (and their by-product - discount outlets such as Winners and HomeSense), and brand loyalty are also factors. Here's an example: I like Jockey underwear. They are 100% cotton, well made, and oh, so comfortable. With our city's brick and mortar Sears closing I know of no other place in my city that sells them. I will have a good look in the possible shops, but if I cannot find my Jockeys, I know I will look online. I know my size, my preferred style and price, so purchasing would be easy. Would I buy shoes or other clothing online? Rarely, if never. I have to try them on, and if possible I like to support my local businesses.

I am sad Sears Canada is closing. I shopped there often. They had great sales, good products, and friendly staff. Unfortunately, despite their monumental efforts at rebranding and revamping, they cannot carry on. Like Eatons they are going the way of the dinosaur, taking their beloved Wish Book with them.  I am sorry for their thousands of employees across the country. Where will they go? Sears hired many older people and now their pensions are evaporating along with everything else. The world does not feel like a very merciful place today. Progress, as usual, leaves many casualties in its wake.

For more information on the history of Sears Canada, have a look at this article, which, by the way, I read after I wrote this post.

The last Canadian Sears Wish Book - the end of an era

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