Feb 24, 2021

The Shuttering of a Sears Store Triggers a Few Memories

Remembering everything from a first color TV to a three-piece Polyester suit

By Ed Goldman

The announced closure of a Sears department store in California’s capital ignited my anecdotalometer.

Anecdotalometers are memory triggers: launchpads for flights of remembered fancy.

Sears was one of two anchor stores to close during the past year in one of the Sacramento region’s largest shopping malls. Nordstrom was the other.

First, I have to clarify that during the past 30 years, whenever my income permitted my tastes to cultivate a little, I probably shopped more at Nordstrom than Sears. But the closure of Nordstrom didn’t flood me with semi-watery vignettes. The demise of Sears has.

Edgy Cartoon

Et tu, Roebuck?

Sears was a dad store in some ways, and some clever marketing never let you forget that. I remember a TV spot many years back, with a manly voiceover narration that began something like this: “This weekend, when you come by Sears to buy some tools and things—”

While there’s nothing ominous about that introductory clause, it’s definitely fraught with meaning. First, it assumes that when the weekend comes, you (a dad) tend to do chores around the house, and that doing them requires you to buy more tools—even though you probably have a garage or home workshop filled with tools and those hook boards on which to hang them. Nevertheless, this weekend’s chores will require the purchase of more tools. That’s what dads do.

And not only tools: “things.” This is the Sears up-sell. The subliminal message is that after you’ve bought your 17th Craftsman® saw, you’ll suddenly realize you could also use a new three-piece Polyester taupe suit. And while Sears was never celebrated for its haute couture, you couldn’t beat its prices for clothes and for instant, decorative art. Remember the line from Billy Joel’s song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” when Brenda and Eddie get married and rent “an apartment with deep pile carpet/And a couple of paintings from Sears”?

Meanwhile, for moms, and especially those with multiple offspring, Sears is where they could always go to buy back-to-school supplies (including clothes) without having to dip into their Roth-IRAs.

For families, there were also name-brand appliances whose manufacturers cut a deal to allow Sears to re-brand them as its own. I found out that my first color TV was made by RCA, but its label said it was by Sears. Regardless, it made the garish primary-color curtains on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” get my heart racing once I no longer had to imagine how garish they were. I think Carson’s set was designed by Beezlebub while suffering an acid flashback. 

Then there was the Sears photo studio. I recall my wife Jane and me, as a newly married couple, going to the Sacramento store one afternoon to have our picture taken. We had eloped, depriving our parents, relatives and friends of the opportunity to see us consecrate our vows on the beach. We thought we were doing everyone a favor and saving them money since Jane’s family and old friends lived in Illinois and mine lived in Long Beach and New York. (We also didn’t want them anywhere near us, but I think my saying we were “doing everyone a favor” has a nicer ring to it.) 

It was probably the worst picture taken of us in the 30 years we would know each other. Part of this was our fault—we did it on a whim after receiving a discount coupon in the mail, and were dressed in clothes that dipped considerably below “casual” on most fashion charts. 

But the makeshift studio setting at Sears was also hilariously irrelevant to our lives: it depicted us leaning lovingly against each other and a haystack, with a farm scene of some sort obviously projected in the background. Jane had lived as an adult in Chicago. I had been born in New York City. The two of us were possibly “a little bit rock and roll” but not even “a little bit country.” Even so, and a bit surprisingly, the photo was a big hit with all the friends and relations blessed to receive a copy of us in a slightly out-of-focus remake of the iconic painting, American Gothic. Ours could have been called Americans Got Sick.

One Sears memory on my anecdotalometer goes back to the subject of color TVs.  My brothers and I grew up without one, even as their prices lowered, making their presence ubiquitous in American households (color TVs, not my brothers and I).

One Saturday morning when I was about nine years old, my dad took me with him to the Sears store near where we lived. He was shopping in the hardware department—probably for “some tools and things”—and I wandered into the appliance department, where 15 TV color sets were variously playing sports events, recent movies, talk shows and children’s programs. 

Of the latter, one featured an old cartoon show, “Crusader Rabbit,” which of course I’d never seen in color. Eye-popping doesn’t begin to describe my reaction to seeing the vividness of colors I’d only dreamed of when watching the show on our black-and-white set. I made a vow to myself on the spot that when I moved out and got my own apartment, my first purchase would be a Sears color TV.

I’d love to tell you I still have that set and even one three-piece Polyester taupe suit. I’m not even sure where that picture of Jane, me and the haystack is. Anecdotalometers aren’t Geiger counters, key-finder apps or a sheriff’s posse. They exist only in your memory. Like Sears.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

I was just re-elected as president of a group you’ve probably never heard of—but whose values should be shouted from the rooftops.

Friends of Traditional Banking is a non-partisan, grassroots group organized by bankers. We’re the inverse of a political action committee (PAC) in that rather than spreading a little bit of money to a lot of campaigns, we focus a lot of money on a couple of key campaigns—more than $3 million to date. We have almost 30,000 members in all 50 states.

We choose two Congressional races each cycle, and encourage our membership to donate directly to those campaigns.

By now I hope you’re asking: So what is traditional banking?

It has three components, very briefly summarized below:

  1. Capital: All banks must have access to Capital, which is leveraged with deposits and then prudently converted into loans that generate jobs and economic growth.
  2. Deposits: Once Capital is invested, it’s leveraged through the collection of deposits that represent the savings or liquid reserves of individuals and businesses in the community.
  3. Loans: Prudent loans to individuals and businesses drive healthy economic growth. Friends of Traditional Banking supports policies that facilitate the market-based pricing and granting of loans which accurately reflect risk.

In short, our focus is on achieving policies that promote and preserve Traditional Banking, recognizing that there are many types of FDIC- insured charters, and corporate structures of all sizes, engaged in this critical process. Traditional Banking is about people —and valuing the communities in which they live and work. See you on the rooftop!

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