Sears’ Most Popular Product: Its Catalog. Plus 2 Other Great Tales.

Sears’ Most Popular Product: Its Catalog. Plus 2 Other Great Tales. October 21, 2018

I’m sure many if not most of you have already read as much as you care to about the demise of venerable Sears, but still, it seems important to fully acknowledge the sad significance of losing yet another once-essential stalwart of Americanism in the Internet Age.

sears catalog
Sears card index department in Chicago, Illinois, in the early 1920s. (Boston Public Library, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

I myself have posted about it twice.

So, feel free to stop reading now if you are among folks weary of media stories about Sear’s bankruptcy filing earlier this month and of the trove of other inevitable stories spawned about the history of this erstwhile American retail titan.

If not, here’s three more articles that at least I found still fascinating and instructive:

‘The best Sears product came with a 126-year warranty’

This Washington Post column proposes that Sears’ product catalog — the simply named “Sears Catalog” — was the company’s most iconic product after it was first published in 1897.

The column, by Megan McArdle, counts the many ways Americans feel the loss of the catalog and consumer products of this once-beloved company.

“It’s always wistful news when a big retailer dies, but the Sears bankruptcy announced Monday feels borderline tragic.”

‘When Sears Was Everywhere: Espionage, Politics and Fine Art’

In this New York Times news-feature article, reporter Tiffany Tsu reveals an unique and interesting fact about the Sears Catalog: it was a must-carry item for American spies and diplomats currying favor and connections with foreign adversaries and contacts.

Wrote Tsu:

“The Sears catalog was ‘an almost obligatory thing to have with you’ if you were an intelligence agent in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, said Jon A. Wiant, a longtime American intelligence officer. Agents gave the catalog to sources who wanted their tailors to replicate the American fashions in its pages, he said.”

‘With each department store that closes, a world vanishes’

Micheline Maynard, in her Washington Post op-ed, wrote about the human cost of disintegration of one of the country’s previous top employers. She lamented:

“When stores close … we don’t really think about the department managers, sales clerks, stockers and janitors who created the special retailing world where not just customers but also workers could escape their routine lives and aspire to the promise that shiny new goods offered.”

The described Sears stores as small cities within themselves, with hierarchies and gossip.

As Sears continues it’s inevitable fade into history, soon to be mostly forgotten in American minds, as was its legendary competitor Montgomery Ward before it, we should take a beat to honor and remember.

Keep in mind that Sears once almost defined American economic innovation and might.

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