Steve’s Ramblings: Sears Holding company did not “Roll with the Changes”

By Steve Dunford 

By April, you will have to go to Paducah, Fairview Heights. Evansville, or Cape Girardeau to buy Kenmore Appliances or Craftsman tools.

As I am writing this I am thinking about the REO Speedwagon song “Roll with the Changes.”

Before my time, you could buy anything at Sears and Roebuck.  Before the days of indoor plumbing, the catalog was used as toilet paper.

Sears like Kenmore appliances, had things manufactured under their name. Here is a page from the 1979 wish book, with their version of clone Mattell hand held games. (

I did not grow up as a Toys-R-Us kid, but I remember the days the Sears catalog at the Wish Book dreaming what I wanted Christmas.   I was a Toys-R-Us parent, buying things for my son at Christmas and birthdays though.

Most of us little boys grew up in Toughskin Jeans.  I think they were made out of some type of denim-canvas.  My mom would dress me in green or brown ones to cut down on the grass stains.

My go-kart as a kid came from Sears out of the catalog.  It came in a crate about the size of the leg lamp one.

For you young whippersnappers, there were Sears catalog stores in most small towns across America.  These were franchise businesses owned by independent operators.  The Sears store in Franklin County was in the building that houses First Financial Bank in West Frankfort now.

There was one in DuQuoin until the last few years.  I do not know if they replaced the one in Mt. Vernon, that opened after the retail store closed several years ago.  There was a catalog store still in Harrisburg, and I am unsure if it is still in operation.  Most of the recent ones specialized in lawn equipment and appliances.

Benton had the competitor catalog store, Montgomery Ward, a company that is now a distant memory.   The store was on East Main, around where Jack Russell Fish Company is now.

An add for a Sears and Roebuck house in the 1920’s (

There was a time that you could order complete houses from Sears.  In fact some of these still dot the countryside. They would be shipped to the nearest train depot.

Some houses that I can give you an example of is the Ernie Duckworth place on Route 34 between Thompsonville and Benton.  Another is the Organ Farms Pumpkin Patch on Route 14 between McLeansboro and Carmi.

Sears began to lose their hold on the market when Sam Walton had a new way of doing business.  He started in Arkansas right after Ben Franklin pulled his franchise.  The liquidation stock he rented a building and put Wal Mart on the front of it.  As Paul Harvey said, now you know the rest of the story.

The chain began to grow regionally.  Each store has a number.  It grew to Southern Illinois after buying out a local discount chain, Mohr Value.   Slowly every county seat had a Wal-Mart.  The store number in Benton-West City is 262, the sequence the store was built.  Now they are in five digits worldwide.

I was sitting in Econ 101 at Rend Lake College as a Freshman.  The instructor brought the latest copy of Forbes and a cut out article from the Wall Street Journal.  It said that Wal-Mart was going to roll out a business model called the Hypermart.  The major change was the stores would sell groceries and gasoline.   He said it was going to be the death of the growing retailer.

I don’t think I need to explain the Hypermart model to you.  It is basically every Walmart now.

In 1997 Walmart passed Sears as the world’s largest retailer.  I thought they replaced Sears as a blue chip stock, but Walmart replaced Woolworth, which is in existence as Foot Locker today.

Some accounts when Sears lost blue chip status, they were replaced by Microsoft, which tech companies were mainly traded on NASDAQ.  Some accounts said Home Depot.

On a record setting day the stock market hit a record high of over 25,000, Sears Holding’s was trading over three dollars a share.

There was a time that K-mart was the discount king in the 1970’s.  The stores had full service restaurants, and the “Blue Light Specials.”  Reflecting on things, a K-mart store has changed little in my lifetime.

At one time a mall was the hip place to go.   It was the hangout for the “preppy” teenagers.  (Preppy might be a word from the past.)  They are now a dying breed.

Malls are now dying.  The last time I was at St. Louis Mills was three years ago.  I loved the place.  Cabella’s helped me wanting to be there.  Bass Pro Shop down the next exit “enhanced” my shopping experience.  The Nike store was one of my favorites.

I remember as a college student walking in Illinois Center Mall.  I was thinking this place is is Marion.  It was at one time the showcase of Southern Illinois.

I have not been in it in a couple years, but it looks like skid row.  The trees in the middle were overgrown.  There was more vacant storefronts than open one.  I know it is worse now.  A place that was once bustling, is dying.  Sears closing might be the last nail in the coffin.

In my head when the Post Dispatch ran a story how empty the place was, I was saying to myself wow.

Walmart “rolled with the changes” with  I can sit at home, still be in my jammies, and by anything with a click of a mouse and debit card in hand.

Sears and Roebuck as well as K-Mart did not “roll with the changes.  With the force of the two companies behind them, they could have competed with Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Instead K-Mart was stuck in the 1970’s, Sears was in the 1980’s.  Soon, they will be part of history.

The majority of you know, that I have not driven in over three years because I suffer from non epileptic seizures from residuals of a stroke.  On days that I feel good, I will make the mile and a half stroll across the interstate.  It is good for me physically and mentally.

The last few times going to K-Mart here in West Frankfort, I could see the writing on the wall.  The stock was low.  If I had wheels, barring if there was not a wreck, I could hop on 57 and be at Walmart in five minutes.

Yes I will miss it.  However, I will not be deprived of anything with the closure of the store.  My heart breaks for the employees losing their jobs.

Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Kroger gets the most of my money.  There is always a trip into McDonalds to get some tea, and a hamburger on my day “adventures.”  I was going into K-Mart less and less.  They were out pricing themselves, and always out of stock on sale items.

I have never owned a retail business, but you have to find your niche.  One retailer that has is Dollar General, with small towns and neighborhood stores.  Benton has two, and soon there will be a second in West Frankfort, that will personally be handy for me.

Growing up in Thompsonville, I would never have dreamed a major retail chain would locate there.

Approaching fifty, this world leaves me more behind everyday.  The changes that are taking place makes my head spin.  I have learned to keep up the best you can and “roll with them.”

Sears and K-Mart will be leaving Southern Illinois in April.  They reason why, they did not “Roll with the Changes.”







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