I recently went to a living wake. The patient was not quite deceased and the throng milled around
with scant respect for the years of service the grand lady had given the community.
The last rites of the Sears store at Lambton Mall had been administered months ago, and the ritual stripping of the shelves occurred over the busy Christmas shopping period. The grand dame of Sarnia retail was crowded again as bargain-seekers picked over hugely discounted merchandise.
The scene was reminiscent of the glory days, when Simpson-Sears dominated the Northgate plaza. Shoppers would pop in for clothes or cutlery, pause for a snack at the friendly lunch counter, or stop to chat with friends or neighbours.
It was your local department store and it was comfortably accessible. Before Internet shopping was a glimmer, before Amazon morphed into a category-killing behemoth, Sears had a parcel pick-up counter. Items would be ordered from an extensive catalogue, and a few days later a brown-wrapped package could be picked up from the friendly ladies on the second floor.
Where did it all go wrong? Some say the move to the mall was a mistake, when the ’round the corner’ store became an anonymous emporium, a destination rather than a quick stop at lunch or after work.
Once, every kitchen seemed to sport a Kenmore appliance, and Craftsman was synonymous with the home handyman. We relaxed on Sears’ sofas, were entertained by a TV or audio from electronics, and wore intimates up close and personal.
The staff was unfailingly helpful. Some would divulge, “If you wait a week the item will be on sale,” or even give you the sale price if you bought unwisely.
In homes across the country, the festive season began when the Christmas Wish Book dropped with a thump in the mailbox. My children would pore over the pages, shortlisting Santa and dreaming of Barbies or Construction sets. The ruthless dictates of the marketplace have trashed those rose-tinted memories.
In the end, even the store fixtures were marked down on the second floor, the hollowed walls of shelving were bare and forlorn, and the staff was, understandably, caught up in the melancholy of going down with the ship.
Today, the crowd is skewed towards the older shopper. The smart phone generation, even at giveaway prices, can’t be lured into a real store with warm people and tactile products.
I have my memories, and now a fine set of china dishes I long coveted, and a pair of sturdy leather shoes that will last many a year. Perhaps that was the problem — their products were made to last.
Farewell Sears, it was good knowing you.
Mike Tanner is a retired businessman who has shopped at Sears for 40 years