“Yea, how the mighty have fallen.” — 2 Samuel 1:27

It’s official. Sears, Roebuck and Co. is broke.

Yup, the outfit that once sold more stuff than anybody else in the world has gone belly up. Depending on the ruling of the bankruptcy court, the company that brought us Kenmore soon may be no more.

Well, the writing’s been on the wall — or the Chicago skyline. When the Sears Tower was renamed Willis, bad corporate karma was sure to follow.

It’s hard to figure that a company that lived up to the slogan, “Solid as Sears” should be going the way of the dodo. Almost like waking up to find the White House turned into a Motel 6 or Yellowstone Park listed on a foreclosure sale.

Of course Sears isn’t the first iconic American brand to fade from the commercial landscape. My grandkids will never drive their “father’s Oldsmobile” and Pan Am’s been grounded for nearly 30 years. You can’t grab a burger at Howard Johnson’s, “Monkey” Ward’s is long gone and good luck stopping at Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, or Grant’s for toothpaste, shoe polish or what have you. Still, Sears was special.

Sears was on the corner of Main Street in Spring Valley, Minn., before I was old enough to routinely come home from town with dry pants. The front door stood at a 45-degree angle to the corner and the main sales floor was ringed by a balcony where they did and sold things little kids just weren’t interested in. I remember it as a small town hardware store where Dad would go to pick up a new pitchfork handle or feed basket and jaw with whoever happened to be picking up a keg of roofing nails or baler twine. Meanwhile I was more than happy doing a Vrrrrrooom! Vrrrrrooom! on the display model go-karts — I always wanted that go-kart. Never got it though ...

But that is one of the few times and ways I can recall Sears to disappoint. I wore the wheels off a blue and white tricycle that carried the J.C. Higgins brand. So did my first two-wheeler — red and white with a pair of training wheels that Mickey Sheehan wasted no time unbolting because he wasn’t gonna be seen going on a bike ride with some sissy.

I had a J.C. Higgins baseball glove that wasn’t my ticket to the big leagues, and the red spin-cast rod that landed my first northern pike also carried the J.C. Higgins brand.

No doubt that fish, and plenty others that shared its fate, ended up wrapped and rock hard in Mom’s Kenmore deep freeze, paid for with Dad’s Sears “revolving charge” credit card ... that wonder of merchandising that spread the cost of school clothes, Christmas presents, fishing tackle and garden supplies in a nice, even layer of indebtedness across the entire calendar year.

Sears was our family store. A company reliable as the Craftsman tools it guaranteed against anything — and when a couple of 200-pound men slipped a 6-foot pipe over the handle of the breaker-bar driving a 2½-inch socket in a mighty attempt to loosen a rusted hub-nut on a 24-foot disc-harrow and put a major crack in said misused socket, the guy behind the tool counter replaced it without so much as a question — although that raised eyebrow did indicate a degree of curiosity as to what could possibly have done that to a finely machined chunk of tempered steel.

I guess I felt a little bit like that about the “going out of business” sign hanging on Sears’ front door. I imagine the “why” of it will be the stuff of a thousand MBA theses, but for me, I look at that socket set and wonder who’s gonna honor that lifetime guarantee.

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Jerome Christenson is a former reporter, columnist and editor at the Winona Daily News.


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