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Dear Sears, It's Time To Hang Up Your Toughskins

By Published on .

True confession: I am a shopaholic.

By the time I was old enough to be strapped into a stroller, I spent every Saturday bathed in fluorescent lights and muzak at the mall. In my family, one did not just shop simply for practicality or pleasure: it was a competitive sport. To this day, if you compliment my shoes, I am likely to blurt out: "DSW, $49.99."

Lemon Frog Shop
Lemon Frog Shop Credit: Courtesy James Lileks/lileks.com

So naturally, we spent a lot of time at Sears. It was truly where America shopped. In the "Brady Bunch" era where I grew up, there was no other place to buy your bell bottoms or maxi dresses. Even Gap had not become a thing yet -- the concept of finding all kinds of jeans in all sizes was still a mind-boggling concept as futuristic as a self-driving car. We spent our youth clad in Toughskins and wore "husky" sizes with impunity before body shaming became a thing. I distinctly remember the thrill of buying my first dress from Sears' Lemon Frog Shop, a tween in-store boutique, which was as much a rite of passage for me as my first pair of pantyhose or heels.

Everything in the gargage came from Sears, except the car, which of course had a Diehard battery. Pretty much every home had at least one Kenmore or a Craftsman, bought on your Sears charge card. Dad's leisure suit? Sears.

You didn't even need to write a letter to Santa -- you just checked off cool things in the Sears wishbook. Paging through the "War and Peace"-size Sears catalog was an exercise in and of itself, a consumerist wet dream of anything and everything you could ever want.

I can't pinpoint just how or when Sears became about as relevant as my 8-track player. Did I just outgrow it like I did the Spencer's Gifts where I bought that cool blacklight and the so-so-current pet rock? I think it started when there came other options -- Gap being one and later Target became the new Bradlees (look it up) -- and then, of course, the mall itself fell out of favor. Amazon became the ultimate "Sears" catalog.

It seems Sears really started falling off the map during the disco era, because by 1983 the chain was admitting in its "softer side" campaign that the only things people were really buying there were tools and appliances.

I still go to the mall today, because old habits die hard. And when I do, I usually park at Sears, because there are so many open spots. I often pass through it on my way to other stores, but I rarely stop and look, because it's just too sad.

The merchandise is thrown around like the worst bargain bin, misshelved and often of poor quality. The store layouts and lighting remind you of the 70s, but not in a good way. And the one time I saw a scarf I might like? I searched forever for a mirror to see how it looked and couldn't find one. A mirror! How basic is that?

So it's time to put Sears out of its misery and finally declare bankruptcy. It has become abundantly clear than in the last decades the company lost sight of its roots and all sense of good merchandising -- when your idea of a cutting-edge brand is Land's End, you are in trouble. And at a time when chains like Macy's and Penney's are struggling, Sears seems to have no chance at all of recovering.

So Sears, you know what is on my wishlist? For the sake of your employees, find a way to fix this and fast. But since your many efforts to do so have so far come to naught, it may come to this: closing down while you still have some pride left. Take it from an old friend.

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