The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Depressed at Sears

What's missing from Sears? The everything? The excellence?

What a depressing place the Sears store on Route 22 has become. When the Plainfield Sears at West Front and Grove Streets was closed after WWII, the new location reflected the trend to the suburbanization of shopping that drove retail in the third quarter of the 20th century.

The luster is long gone, as my foray on Tuesday confirmed.

My first experience of Sears was being taken as a youngster of 5 or so to the store in downtown Buffalo by an aunt and having my first -- tearful -- experience of an old-fashioned wooden escalator.

While my mother and her friends would window shop the upscale fashions at the Adam, Meldrum & Anderson department store, purchases were more likely to be made at Sears -- if not from the genormous Sears catalogs that came in the mail to our home several times a year.

My parents were the generation that was pleased to satisfy its needs from Sears' "good-better-best" selections of ranges, refrigerators and washers in the days before SubZero and home-sized restaurant ranges.

Sears always had everything, and the quality was excellent in its reliability if not in its style.

But I was astonished at how much shopping at Sears has changed in just the past few years.

Coming in off the lot near the menswear department, I walked past rack after rack and table after table of merchandise along the main aisle all marked "Clearance" or "50% - 60% Off".

Checking the tag of a cotton polo shirt, it was marked 50% off a $44.00 SRP -- at $22.00 just about what one would expect as a normal retail price. The pricing gimmickry wears thin after a while.

It was actually hard to find goods that were simply put out at full price.

When I did take my couple of pairs of Everlast sweat pants to the counter -- already marked down -- the sales clerk offered me a further $15.00 off if I would apply for a Sears credit card. (I had also needed to find galoshes, but was told the store doesn't carry them.)

After the Plainfield store moved to the vastly spacious Watchung location, the new store is said to have been the highest-grossing store by square footage in the Sears empire. Hard to believe now.

But Sears faces steep competition from chains that have grown fat off nibbling at its market through niche targeting -- just think of Sports Authority, Old Navy and P.C. Richards, to name a few.

As Sears struggles along and times change, a fair question is "Did Sears change, or did we?"

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Oscar said...

Sears didn't change, that's the problem!

Tom Kaercher said...

Hi Dan,

One big change made at Sears was when one former "genius" CEO made the unilateral decision to shut down the Sears catalog division. How did that work out?

Virginia said...

Our childhood memories are so similar ;mine in NJ and yours in NY !Who could forget the Sears catalogue ? I remember clinging to my mother's leg even as a policeman tried to help us cross busy Plainfield streets as we shopped. Sears ,with giant fans to cool the building in summer was often one of our stops ;Sometime in the early '50s .