Once upon a time, as the old fairy tales go, you could buy an entire house — a high-quality house, maybe with oak floors and cedar shingles — by mail order.
You’d pick out an appealing model from a catalog, and Sears would deliver all the necessary materials to you, from lumber to nails to instructions for assembly, at an affordable price for your budget.
$1,500 or so for a house was a bargain back in the 1930s. It’s still a bargain in today’s dollars, about $30,000.
Sears sold between 70,000 to 75,000 of those prefabricated homes between 1908 and 1940, and some are still standing. Elgin has the largest grouping; one neighborhood in that city, some 40 miles northwest of Chicago, has 200 verified Sears homes, as Popular Mechanics reports.
Those pre-fabricated homes weren’t the only thing you could get at Sears. The pages of the old Sears catalogs — it ceased publication in 1993 — were filled with plenty of other goods too, from clothing to kitchen appliances to jewelry to toys.
No wonder Sears, in its heyday, was pretty much a one-stop shopper’s paradise. Like Amazon. Or maybe better, since you can’t buy a three-bedroom home from Amazon.
Why are we waxing nostalgic today about Sears, one of many retailers navigating a rocky path toward reinvention in this age of online shopping?
Because on Sunday, another chapter in the Sears saga comes to an end: The last of the company’s Illinois department stores is closing for good, at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.
The closing was announced back in September, just a week after the 50th anniversary of the opening of Woodfield Mall itself, with Sears as one of its anchor stores. Transformco, the company that now owns Sears, wants to focus on growing the sears.com website and Sears Home Services, which offers major appliance repairs. There are also the much smaller Sears Hometown Stores — Illinois has 11 of them — which sell mostly hard goods and appliances.
A far cry from the days when Sears had some 3,000 major department stores nationwide. The one at Woodfield was the largest when it opened.
We’re hoping Sears can thrive in its new niche. Maybe the company should think about selling those do-it-yourself homes again.
Before Jeff Bezos steals the idea.
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