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Poor Sears...

    I read in the newspaper that Sears, as well as K-Mart, are sinking deeper into a financial hole. I don't know much about K-Mart, but I know a lot about Sears. This was my favorite and most respected retailer and service store for years.

    As a small, overactive, overly-curious child, my parents bought a white woven cloth harness with a leash to keep control of my antics when we went shopping. This was sometimes at Rexall, Montgomery Ward, Kresges, Western Auto, or A & P groceries, but was more often a trip to Sears. I was fascinated by so much at Sears; the escalators with a never ending belt - little metal teeth that magically disappeared into the floor at the top; the atrium where I wasn't allowed to climb on the wall to look down to the first floor, and most of all, the cashiers with little pneumatic tubes by each bulky register that would suck up large bills in small tin-can shaped containers; the "cans" would magically shoot up in see-though tubes to the ceiling, and along the top to disappear into the office, signaling its arrival with a ding. There was so much to see! At the shoe department, I could sit while the clerk measured my feet with an interesting sliding stick, then I could try on the recommended size of Oxfords or Buster Browns, and stand with my feet in a fluoroscope machine that showed bones, feet and the outline of the shoes, to be sure I had a little growing room.

    Years passed; the x-ray machines disappeared along with the harness and the pneumatic tubes, but Sears was always a part of life. A high point was the annual arrival of the Sears catalog. I’d page through the massive tome, and on each set of pages I'd make my selection, marking it with a small "x". There were huge toy illustrations, with items I'd never seen nor would ever have; miniature gas stations, wild west corrals, military outposts with soldiers and cannons, tiny kitchens, dolls and stuffed animals galore. One could even order a prefab home, delivered in pieces with instructions for assembly! By the time I reached women's corsets I was usually getting a headache, but I'd plow on, sometimes interrupted by meals or bedtime, but it was somehow a goal to select one item from each set of pages. I have no idea why.

    As an adult I had the greatest respect for Craftsman tools, and they were my purchase of choice whenever I bought any. The same for Kenmore appliances. As the years went by, the quality declined. Sometimes in later years I bought other brands, but although the premature failure rate was sometimes as bad or worse than Sears, I still reserved my disappointment for Sears' eroding quality - never mind that we are living in an increasingly throw-away economy, where a great deal of our consumables are made in China or other overseas manufacturing outfits, and our home-based companies just tell us it's not their fault; buy a new one.

    For some years I had a whole house service contract with Sears. It included an outdoor yard pump. It was a great disappointment when the mechanic who showed up to service it and install a new valve didn't know one had to prime a pump, told me it was shot and removed it from the contract. I tried to explain and ended up throwing him off the property. I primed it myself and got it reinstated. Every year or two I had each room air conditioner washed out and serviced; Sears discontinued the yearly practice and I cancelled my whole house contract, keeping only a few individual ones. We got a refrigerator there, manufactured by another big-name producer, which gave us so much trouble in the first year I realized belatedly I'd bought a lemon; a couple of years later the manufacturer sent out kits which Sears had a specialist install - a four hour job - which was free but would have cost us hundreds without the contract. Since then I've had to throw out one mechanic who didn't know what he was doing; a second one quickly diagnosed the problem and fixed it. The next disappointment was when my old water heater, under contract, began to leak. Sears agreed to send me a new one, but I'd have to pay for installation and a permit. Ok with me. The mechanic was an outside agency, not Sears, did not have the heater with him, had not taken out a permit (I found all this out later), arrived during a party on New Years Eve, spoke to a neighbor in Spanish which he didn't know I was fluent in, and which made me realize he had no intention of doing an installation, gave me a number or reasons why he couldn't because of code (all lies as he didn't realize I know construction principles) and refused to leave the heater. When I threatened to call the police, he reluctantly brought in a heater (turned out it was much more expensive new heater he had removed from another home due to damage and missing parts).

    When my daughter's Kenmore a/c broke after 9 years of use, I ordered another with certain specifications from - I thought - my local Sears, but the phone service had switched me to a national call center. I kept asking the agent if she was personally familiar with certain models; she assured me that she was. I was prepared; UPS dropped off the box; an outside contractor came to install it and same story; wrong size, wrong current, not what I ordered and a two man job anyway, etc. We had it picked up, refunded, and the old one repaired for $100. That's my last go at an a/c from Sears.

    All these are some of the reasons Sears is in danger of going under. But not the primary one. We can lay the real blame, I think, to bathroom appliance manufacturers and toilet paper producers. Huh!!?? That's right - when we had outdoor latrines - outhouses - we not only had the Sears catalog for a year, it was the preferred wipe in the outhouse. Collier, Life, Farm Journal and others were too slick, but the Sears catalog was a nearly unending supply of sheets just the right size and texture for sanitary use. They composted nicely down below until time for a cleanout. Indoor toilets and their need for soft toilet paper did away with the end (excuse the double entendre) use of that utilitarian book. Bring back the Sears catalog and outhouses, and we'll see a BIG change!

The Sneaky Kitchen
Fuller Brush & Stanley Home Products
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Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201
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