Towards dusk, going to the local mall, I park where I’ve always parked, on the Sear’s side. Something didn’t look right. The glass doors were there, the lights were on, but inside, a store selling emptiness.
I felt an awwww, like when you pass by a road kill dog.
Wasn’t surprised, knew it was coming, but still…Sears…ole dependable, where I got my first fishing pole, first bicycle, first set of tools, first credit card…it was a variation of death, yet another thing I didn’t see coming…
It All Started With Watches
Richard Warren Sears’ father had lost the family fortune, so Richard took a job as a station agent for the railroad, when he happened upon a quantity of watches that a jeweler needed to unload. He made a fine profit.
It all began with mail order, and then to physical stores planted all over America. For most of the 20th century it was the biggest, healthiest retailer in America. Even as late as 2006 it made a profit of $1.5 billion. Four years later, it was happy to break even.
In 2010 it had 3500 stores across America. By 2017 it was down to less than 700.
Us, we around here, we just lost ours. America is getting very different.
The Half Life Of Change
The morning after astronaut Neil Armstrong put one foot on the moon I rode my bicycle down the road to the grandparent’s house. The moon thing, we didn’t talk about it.
My grandparents rode a farm wagon, kidney shaking, bing, bang, no suspension, rough riding over a gravel road, nine miles at horse walk speed, to get their marriage license.
Long before NASA they’d had other firsts; a strange noise, dogs barking, cows running away from the fence line, and there it was, their first sighting of a Model T; a noise above, something silver, with a spear of white behind it, their first sighting of an airplane.
They had one leg planted on life before modern – life before radio, TV, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, automobiles, airplanes, lunar landing modules.
…I always wondered – and wished I’d had the good sense to be with them on that night when we landed on the moon – what it must have been like for them, two old people watching history, something neither Aristotle, nor Julius Caesar, nor the 12 Apostles could ever imagine, a man stepping foot on the moon, and my grandparents not sure if they were supposed to be excited or afraid…
For the thousands of years of recorded human history, 99 percent of it is consistently tortoise speed, three generations of a family at a time, and every single one milking a cow, cooking over wood, and shivering in the winter.
Change was more considerate to our ancestors. The little this ‘n that’s, fractions of change, happened over centuries, until the 1800’s and a fire gets lit, the railroads, Industrial Revolution…but even then, change happened over a lifetime, not compressed, like now, into the versions and updates, products built to become obsolete between our birthdays…
Just In My Lifetime…
I knew life before WalMart. You went downtown, to Main Street, Mom ‘n Pop stores, where the store people knew your people.
I knew Sears when Sears was Sears. It was never glamorous. But it was solid. Dependable. Sears was fair, a good value, things built well, meant to last. Sears was American, in the best sense of the word.
WalMart killed the little man, who ran the shops on Main Street. It put a hurt on Sears, but Sears was a big prey, and the hunt went on for decades.
What neither Sears, nor WalMart – nor you and I – knew, was that Amazon was coming, for both of them.
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