Remembering Sears Roebuck

Published 3:21 pm Friday, June 21, 2019

Another surprising demise is the venerable, ubiquitous Sears stores and their catalog. I remember when it was Sears, Roebuck & Company and best known for its huge mail order catalog. We ordered from the large warehouse complex in Atlanta. 

That big catalog was the source for most store-bought merchandise needed on the farm and the principal reference book in addition. An example of this function is that when I asked how to spell “genuine” I was sent to the saddles and found the word in the description: the saddle was made from “genuine leather,” of course. 

The catalog also provided a detailed education as to what ladies wore under their dresses . . . the country boy’s Playboy magazine years before that came about!  

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Most of the catalog was printed on newsprint, so some of them found their way to the johnny house out back to provide toilet tissue. Of course, the books made good reading for planning future orders even though out of date.  

Others had their pages folded down so they fanned out to turn the catalog into a good door stop to prop doors open (the doors all swung by gravity, either open or shut, due to the uneven settling of the house’s foundation pillars). 

The catalogs had everything from pianos and washing machines to the entire house! There is a Craftsman house in Columbus diagonally across from the Stearns gym. Some of the pianos were available with mouse-proof pedals, so designed that the pedal hole in the case was covered when the pedals were in the up position. 

Of course all of us shade-tree mechanics have Craftsman tools, replaced without question if you managed to bend one or otherwise make the tool unusable. I understand that other retailers are now able to obtain and market those famous tools. 

When the big box Sears stores began to proliferate on the landscape and they dropped the Roebuck name, many country folks who had become urbanites flocked into the stores where ladies could “feel the fabric” and the fast-growing kids could try on shoes and school clothes. 

Soon Sears pioneered something they called the “Revolving Charge Account.” We got on the bandwagon, using ours to outfit the kids for school in August. We got it paid down just in time to load it up again for Christmas! 

Most of the big box stores are now an endangered species, made so by the rise of Amazon and the Internet. And the delivery people can hardly expand fast enough to meet demand. The older airliners are being converted for cargo, and drones are being looked at for delivery of packages. 

The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside. Well, for me at least, the new may be exciting, but the old is comfortable.  

I spent the productive portion of my life designing some of the new and embracing the rest eagerly. I used to explain the new to whoever asked, now I ask whoever might know as I try to wrap my head around stuff that is too often beyond my ken. Fortunately, our son is patient with me as we switch roles twixt teacher and pupil. 

We used to open doors of knowledge for our children, and encourage them to keep as many doors open as possible as they grew into adulthood. They did not close very many doors by inappropriate behavior, but instead have strode with confidence through many satisfying doors of opportunity and promise. Is there any better legacy that parents can provide?