“My dad’s idea of a good time is to go to Sears and look around.” —Jay Leno
I’m not sure that looking around at Sears ever scored any treasures, but rummaging around antique shops for treasures or memories and finding a 1970 Sears catalog at Nettie’s Nook in Center, Texas, a couple of weeks ago was some of both.
The treasure was expanding my catalog collection to three adding to my 1966 Winter Sale and 1955 Summer Sale catalog. The pièce de résistance will be a copy of the Sears “Christmas Wish Book.”
On the memories side, anyone who remembers spending hours with the “Wish Book” trying to decide what you wanted Santa to bring, raise your hand. Yep, just as I suspected. Those hands in the air belong to those of us who are a little more “experienced” in life while the younger hands are busy scratching heads. “Wish Book?”
The once retail and mail order giant whose obituary was finalized as 2018 ended will apparently survive to fight another day, albeit different from the business those of us with our hands in the air grew up with.
My life story could not be told without mention of the chain of department stores founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1893. Thanks to my grandmother, I was in the first grade before I learned that I wasn’t sourced from the iconic catalog. Granny always referred to the catalog company as Sears’s which she pronounced “searz · iz.” By whatever name, even at a young age, I knew it was time to straighten up and fly right when she said, “You better mind me or I’m gonna send you back to Sears’s!”
That threat spoke volumes about the retailer’s role in small-town life in the 20th Century. First, Sears was more than a store, it was a way of life. The variety of goods and services available for ordering was the ultimate marketplace, much like Amazon is today. Find it in the catalog, fill out the order blank, and mail it off to the Chicago-based company along with your check or money order. Within a couple of weeks, your anticipated package was on your doorstep or at the local store.
Also, if the Sears Easy Payment Plan didn’t close the sale, the Sears Guarantee printed in every catalog would: “If for any reason you are not satisfied with any article purchased from us, we want you to return it to us at our expense.”
Most of my grade-school shirts that Mom and Granny didn’t make came from Sears advertised for 84¢ in the Summer Sale catalog when ordered in lots of six.
In junior high when I was certain I would be scarred for life if I didn’t have a motor scooter, the Cushman Allstate advertised at $229 in the Winter Sale catalog was my dream.
My first car in high school ran on tires: $41 for a set of four and batteries that sold for $10.45 ordered today and picked up next Tuesday at Sears in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
My son, Lee, who is celebrating his 39th birthday the same day I am writing this, was already an ardent angler at age 10 when he fished Lake Murvaul in a small boat from Sears ordered from the Center, Texas, “catalog store” on Shelbyville Street for $184.95.
After a 97-year-history, Sears big-book catalogs disappeared in 1993. Only the Wish Book endured in smaller versions. It has randomly reappeared since, but nothing resembling the holiday tradition treasured by generations of children looking forward to Christmas morning.
I miss the Sears catalog. And while I did eventually see Chicago, fortunately, it was on my terms and not with Granny exercising the Sears return policy.
Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.
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