When I was a kid, shopping was a family outing, an experience, an adventure. And that adventure was
My Dad worked for Marshall Fields for 30 years but Fields was "for the rich folks". We were what they called in the day "working middle class" and Dad only allowed us to go to Fields for the employee Christmas party or only if we shopped exclusively in the bargain basement using his 20% employee discount. No, for us, our family and neighbors it was Sears. "Our" Sears was the flagship store on Six Corners in Chicago. We shopped as a family and that meant the entire family went, like an outing. Grandma and Grandpa went with us.
We loaded into the car dressed in our Sunday best. Entering from the parking lot, the aroma of roasting nuts filled the air around the candy counter. Grandpa generally bought a paper cone of roasted almonds with cinnamon. I can still see him in my mind today. He wouldn't shop because that was "lady stuff" but he found a spot at the bottom of the escalator where he would munch his almonds and people watch, nodding to the folk as they cruised down.
A family friend had what my Dad referred to as "a real good job" at Sears selling home improvements so whether we visited Sears we had to go and "say hello" to George. Of course any appliances we needed we always bought at Sears. I remember in particular that by the vacuum cleaners they had a display that mesmerized me. A beach ball floating and spinning high on a jet of air. It never fell down! Magic, to my young eyes.
Summer? Sears was "air-cooled". One of the few places to air-condition on a stifling hot Chicago August day. A fellow had a cart and sold hot dogs in the parking lot. I was going to get one when I grew up cause Mom wouldn't buy us one from a cart. She thought the guy might have dirty fingernails. Winter? Christmas decorations in the large display windows and everywhere throughout the store. I can still smell those little log cabins that burned Christmas incense out its chimney that could be bought at Sears each Christmas. When the Sears Christmas catalog came out we kids would circle what we wanted Santa Claus to give us. Our gifts may not be what we circled but it most certainly came from Sears.
We were loyal to Sears because Sears had everything we needed and wanted and I mean everything. Clothes, linens, shoes, toys, tools, tires, appliances (I"m sure I am forgetting something) and hey a Hillmann's grocery in the basement.The Sear's catalog had even sold kits for houses built in the Chicago area in the 1930's. Sears' Craftsman tools were famous for their absolute guarantee. Once Grandpa found an old rusty screwdriver in the alley and seeing a Craftsman logo returned it to Sears and got a brand new one! My husband, at 17 and a new driver, bought his car insurance from another young fellow standing at an Allstate booth, trying to build a base of customers at Sears. Years ago when my husband and I bought our first home it took our last penny. We proudly moved into a home that was basic beyond basic. No lawn or landscaping, unfinished lower level, no screens or storm windows, no air-conditioning and no appliances. We operated out of an ice chest and a crockpot. Sears bailed us out by giving us our first credit card which we used to purchase a stove and a refrigerator.
Mom predicted the end of Sears when they opened on Sundays. She actually cried, "Oh it's awful and so worldly and wrong for a place as great as Sears to be open on a Sunday, the Lord would not approve." Sears was still on top and making big money for years after they opened on Sundays but that was then and this is now. Goldblatts, Montgomery Ward, Wieboldts, Marshall Field, and other "department" stores are long gone while Sears remains but she seems to be fading fast. Since 2010, Sears has gone from more than 3,500 physical stores to 695 in the US. "Our" six corner Sears in the Portage Park area on Cicero and Milwaukee may now be the only remaining flagship store in Chicago proper.
Just a few weeks ago we drove into Chicago from our suburban home to attend the funeral of a family friend. We passed right by the six corners Sears. I didn't go in. I don't want to go there and NOT see Grandpa at the escalator or "say hello" to George. Rich, our Allstate agent since my husband turned 17, died some years ago. We now get our insurance from a nameless reptile on the internet. And the floating beach ball I loved and remember so well? Turns out it wasn't magic after all but science. I found that out on the internet too. Check out this youtube →The Dancing Beachball = Bernoulli's Equation.
Sears was then and this is now. Nope, I didn't go in.
Here are some interesting Sears-related sites
→SEARS HOMES OF CHICAGOLAND
→THE HISTORY OF SEARS
→THE DANCING BEACHBALL
Update 2018 -
....The last flagship Sears in Chicago
....Our family Sears on 6 corners