Once upon a time in America, two men started a mail order enterprise that carried their name for decades - Sears and Roebuck. Their mail order business grew into what was once the largest retailer in the country.
Among my vast collection of books, I own a reprint edition of the Sears and Roebuck 1902 catalog. Other reproductions of various years are also available. For the curious like me, they offer a look into the past and I find them fascinating, all the more so as the once mighty Sears declines.
Sears grew from a mail order business to America's Main Street and later into a mall presence. Sears became America's largest retailer, a position they held until 1991 when they lost that rank to Wal-Mart.
As a child, November and December were my catalog season. The Sears Wish Book and the JC Penney's catalog were favorites. My focus was on the toy pages where I dreamed of baby dolls and Barbie dolls.
In Joplin, I came to be well-acquainted with Sears in their 7th Street location. Over the years, I bought clothing, a fancy electronic typewriter in the era prior to computers and more. When I was pregnant, my mom and I shopped there. That's where my daughters' Jenny Lind cribs and their crib bumpers came from. Once Sears moved to Northpark Mall, as a family, there was a time we shopped there on many Saturdays, at least once a month, often more.
As our family grew up, the time we spent at Sears dwindled. It's been a long time since I did a mall crawl or spent much time -or money - at the mall. If I had to name the exact date I last set foot in either the mall or Sears, I couldn't.
Late last week, the announcement came that Sears in Joplin is one of 51 Sears stores and 45 K-Marts closing by February 2020. The number of both Sears and K-Mart stores has dwindled in recent years. K-Mart is gone from both Joplin and St. Joseph. Sears in St. Joe closed last year. I believe Springfield will be the nearest Sears location and I have no idea where to locate a K-Mart.
The way we shop is changing as retail evolves. The glory days of downtown districts and Main Street America gave way to the malls and shopping centers. In recent years, online shopping has become huge. I'll admit I shop online but the things I buy aren't available in Neosho or Joplin. Watching one of America's iconic retailers fade is sad but it's not the first and probably won't be the last. Montgomery Wards is a memory. So is Kresge's, once my favorite discount or dime store chain. Add Toys R Us, Walden Books, Hastings, Musicland, Woolworths, Famous Barr and so many more to the list of vanished stores.
Times are changing but that doesn't mean we have to like it.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy writes a weekly column, A Writer's View. She is community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a published novelist and freelance writer.