WHERE AMERICA SHOPPED
“They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale…”
So sang Chuck Berry about Pierre and the lovely madamoiselle in YOU NEVER CAN TELL The truth is you could once not only completely furnish an apartment or house from the Sears & Roebuck mail order catalog, you literally could even buy the whole house. Starting in 1908 Sears delivered tens of thousands of complete house kits and plans to just about any place having railroad access. All you needed were tools and a suitable piece of land. And they were sturdy and fashionable for the times. Some still exist.
Sears came out of Chicago as the world’s most complete catalog in 1886. I came out of Chicago almost 60 years later. Like my father growing up in the Wisconsin Prairie, the Sears catalog served as a “Wish Book” for both of us. In a way, The Wish Book served to spread a mass culture (and consumerism) much the same as radio, then TV and now the Internet. Name the product and it probably could be found in the catalog. About 1940 they even sold their own brand of automobile. It was a version of the legendary (and cheap) Henry J. Sears sold everything from firearms to musical instruments. The great Les Paul bought his first guitar by mail order from Sears when he was eleven.
The catalog was down played as brick and mortar stores became the norm. Names like Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Easy Living paint were found in homes all over America. No name was more respected than Craftsman Tools. They were so well made that the company would replace a broken one with no questions asked. I used a number of their tools (among some other brands) in my woodworking business. They were excellent.
All of this brought out the historian in me when I heard the Sears company is closing more of its Sears and Kmart stores including the local one in Milton, FL Sears once advertised it was “The Place Where America Shops.” It was even more than that. Sears was truly a part of popular culture. They are now closing stores all over the nation. I personally believe Sears broke a trail for the Amazons of the world.
The Sears Catalog is still available. I had hoped to include a photo of the local store but it has been razed.