Slip Slidin’ Away, Slip Slidin’ Away

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Paul Simon

Sears. Fading out after 131 years. Slip sliding into retail obscurity. Founded in 1886 in Chicago by Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck. Started as a mail order business, opening first retail stores in 1925. It was the largest retailer in the United States until 1989, surpassed by Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Home Depot.

Long before I ever saw the store, I was given an old catalog to play with. I was not much of a kid for dolls and playing house, preferred the outdoors, coveting playhouses, swings and pools as I turned the pages. However, I also loved clothes at an early age and so used my little scissors to cut out fashions I admired, filling my imaginary closet.

manekinsAnother ten years before I physically entered a Sears store with my parents and sister, after moving to Los Angeles. We drove miles inland to buy our first television, the only major purchase we needed since our rented beach house was fully furnished.

Another two years and we had our own house, Sears appliances, tools, and a beginning darkroom kit for me that my father helped me set up in the garage.

And then Sears soured in my mind. As a single, working mother trying to establish credit with Sears, I was turned down. Even with my mother co-signing with her 30-year account! A neighbor of hers, an older woman, had worked for Sears forever in the kitchen renovation department. She was gradually pushed out of her position and commission, given worse and worse projects, forcing her to fade away.

I seldom shopped there. A couple of times in 20 years, to buy specifically requested tools for my sons at Christmas or for birthdays.

The nearest Sears was an anchor for our local mall, and a landmark for my friends and family. Name clearly visible on the big stone building from half a mile away. Closest to an easy and spacious parking lot, close to major streets and freeways, next to the university my son attended, a convenient meeting place.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in to use the bathroom. I was shocked at how empty the store was, sales men and women clustering around racks of frumpy lumberjack shirts, directing me upstairs to a restroom hidden behind a maze of stoves and refrigerators.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I soon read the store was closing. Since 2010, Sears has slipped from 3,500 stores to 695.

Yesterday was its last day. And by chance I happened to be in the mall celebrating my birthday week with a friend. We both spotted the flapping plastic Closing! sign above the doors. She had a Sears appliance question, so suggested we go in.

A vast cavern, no answers here. A few rugs, forlorn pieces of clothing and piles of jewelry, mostly store shelves, bookcases, display cabinets, and manikins. The skeletal leftovers. Families and couples hovering and picking the bones. One woman hoisted a rolled rug on her shoulder and strolled out like she was carrying water jugs down to the riverbank. Vans and SUVs lined up outside the automatic doors to swallow the remnants.

The doors first opened in 1977, the year Paul Simon wrote his song about life’s plans slipping away from mere mortals.

Still, Sears had a good run. A flagship leading an era.

Tools for the handymen and busy women, dreams for the workers, immigrants and children.

I hope whatever comes next takes us farther down the highway.

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