The writing was pretty much on the wall for Sears when the company announced they were “restructuring,” and everyone’s assumptions were confirmed when they announced liquidation plans this summer.
While news like this doesn’t come as much of a surprise in competitive world of on-line shopping, and while I confess to never having personally shopped from them much, the thought of Sears being no more is kind of sad for me, and not just because of the closure of businesses and loss of jobs.
Sears Bargain Basement in Halifax was a regular stop when we would travel to the city as a kid. I remember going there with my grandparents and agonizing over the hours spent watching Grandma go through bins of drapes and dresses, and everything in between, until I had been well-behaved enough that they took me to the back of the store where the toys were. I still remember the huge doll mannequin head with the long, blonde ponytail that you could make longer or shorter, and how I cried when they told me I couldn’t get it. As though it were yesterday I can hear Grandpa say, “No, Gina, that’s $20!” Back in circa 1985 or so, $20 was a lot of money for a toy, so the doll mannequin was not to be.
I can’t recall exactly when the fall/winter catalog would arrive, but that issue was a big one for me, because I got to pick out all my school clothes. (This is not to be confused with getting to order them. God knows that didn’t happen, for me or any of my friends.) There were always a few select items that I would absolutely pine over for weeks, usually the trendiest, gaudiest, brightest, most impractical items in the whole book.
In Grade 4, my dreams came true when Grandma bought me the jade green dress that came with both a neon pink and neon green accent bandana. But amazing as it was, nothing will ever compare to the piece de resistance, the acid-washed jean jacket with the brown fringe up and down the arms. It will go down in history as my favourite piece of clothing of all time.
This brings me to the most important of Sears’ offerings. There are few things that remind me of my childhood quite as much as the Sears Wish Book.
It was around September when that beast would arrive in the mailbox, all 400 or so pages of it, and a few pounds in weight. If you were a kid with siblings in small-town Canada, it was not uncommon to have gotten into a fistfight with your brother or sister the day it arrived, over who got to take it to their room first. Once the first sibling had circled all of their favourite toys, earmarked all the pages, and otherwise maimed the catalog, it was damaged goods.
Ah, but even still, leafing through that thing for the first time that season was one of life’s great pleasures as a pre-teen. If I was smart, I would have acquired a copy for reference before starting this piece, but my memories of it will have to suffice.
All the good stuff seemed to be in the first few dozen pages, where gift items were grouped by price (under $10, under $20). From there, we’d transition into fruit cakes and those weird baskets of jam, but it wasn’t long before you could skip past the mattresses and pillows to pick yourself out a new bedroom comforter set.
I always spent a little time on the next section, the clothes, just to admire the fancy, glittery Christmas dresses, and it was fun to look at those cool New Kids on the Block sleeping bags, as well. I’d take at least an hour browsing the various karaoke machines, to pick out the one with the best compilation tapes. I’d always give the sleds and snowboards a look, but it wasn’t long before I’d roll up my sleeves and get to work on the toy section.
From Glow Worms, to Holiday Princess Barbies, those big sets of army men, synthesizers, and magic sets (my favourite), there was something for everyone. And all of these dreams would be delivered COD – cash on delivery – to the Sears location in St. Peter’s, and what a moment it was to see the lady come from behind the counter with that signature blue bag.
It’s a shame to see the end of an era, but what an era it was. Thanks, Sears.