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Memories of a ghost from Christmas past


If you’re over 40, you remember the Sears Catalog.

And for 60 years, from 1933 to 1993, Sears and Roebuck added a special Christmas edition to their catalog, renamed the “Wish Book” in 1968, when I was barely big enough to hold it in my hand. But for three months, every October to December I thumbed through it every day, rewriting my Christmas list.

Saturday, I visited Sears for the last time. The store that was once the cornerstone of the Mesilla Valley Mall – not to mention of the whole American retail industry – is now an empty shell, with a few Persian rugs and girls’ dresses to sell. Nationwide, Sears store are disappearing faster than a plate of biscochitos during the holidays.

Sears is quickly becoming a ghost of Christmas past.

Walking through the once packed store prompted me to steal a line from Dr. Seuss’s “Grinch,” as the store cleaners “left nothing but hooks and some wire.”

And while I saw the sale placard for it, I was too late to take advantage of the Pie Face Cannon, marked down from $26.99 to the unbeatable price of … “You pay $13.49!”

Alas. Christmas won’t be the same without blasting pies in loved ones’ faces.

For most of the 20th Century, Sears was king, America’s biggest retailer until Walmart finally overtook that title in 1991.

Many people say online shopping sites like Amazon accelerated Sears’ demise.

In many ways, though, Sears was the original Amazon.

By mailing its catalog to every city, burg and hamlet in the United States, Sears took its store to the people. Indeed, for many years, they had no brick-and-mortar buildings.

A 1931 Sears advertisement sang out the message: “Shop the Modern Way … from your easy chair!”

Sears warehouses stocked everything, from ant farms to zebra-striped pajamas, and shipped boxes out day and night. Amazon’s modern business model was ripped right from the pages of the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

Amazon got started earlier than we may realize. They mailed out a book to an online customer for the first time in 1995.

That was the same year I moved to Alamogordo, where there was a small Sears outlet store. To get the “good Sears stuff,” though, I had to travel all the way to Las Cruces to the “big” Sears to get my brand-new Weed Wacker and Hanes underwear.

Last Saturday, I walked through the now hollow Las Cruces store, fighting urges to yell and hear the echo, or to run and do a baseball slide on the wide-open floor. I also stopped where the tool shelves used to be.

Having grown up on Craftsman tools, I remained loyal, and at least once a year for the past 24 years I bought a power saw, a socket, a wrench, a drill bit, a screwdriver or some other desperately needed tool from one of those shelves. I had auto work done in the store once. Bought batteries, sporting goods and a lot of clothes. There was a time most households in America had at least one Sears Kenmore appliance.

Walking through the open floors, I remembered my childhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the days before malls, and the Sears store was a giant, monolithic three-story beacon taking up massive space at the corner of 21st Street and Yale Avenue.

I remember marking my Wish Book on the pages of toys with G.I. Joe, electric football games and Hot Wheels, or basketballs, BB guns and Dallas Cowboys jerseys. Sears featured sporting goods endorsed by baseball and fishing Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Cheryl Tiegs, whose first modeling gigs included posing for the catalog, later, had her own Sears clothing collection.

The store’s bankruptcy and shutdown are a reminder of the inevitability of change, and that nothing lasts forever.

Nothing but the spirit of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Las Cruces, and Happy New Year!


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