BY JIMMY FROST
VIRGINIA BEACH — I remember when my parents could walk into the Sears at Pembroke, drop the kids off at the Atari display and walk through the entire mall while we played Atari, taking our turns, enjoying our time. Our parents knew right where we were and that we’d be safe.
Dad bought all of his hand-tools and his riding lawn mowers from Sears. Mom swore by their Kenmore appliances, bought our Toughskins jeans there and, if we needed a part for anything we ever bought at Sears, we visited the parts center on Witchduck Road, and they had it in stock.
Sometimes, my mother cleaned the house feverishly, assigning my siblings age-appropriate tasks while lording over us to “clean it right.” Bathrooms scrubbed, carpets vacuumed, windows cleaned inside and out, all the laundry done and put away, lawn mowed, edges dug (in the days before weed eaters) while my older brothers pulled everything out of the garage, swept the floor and put everything back in a neat, organized fashion. We even had to clean the windows on the garage doors, and there had better not be any streaks in them. Mom wanted our home to look like it was ready for a Better Homes & Gardens photo shoot.
One day, when I was about 7, I remember asking her why we were cleaning everything.
“Is Grandma coming?”
Mom looked at me. “No, honey. The Sears Appliance repair man is coming to look at our dishwasher tomorrow, and if our house isn’t clean, we couldn’t walk into the Sears store without being ashamed of ourselves.”
When the repairman arrived, he was on-time, dressed in a freshly cleaned and pressed uniform, knew exactly what the problem was, had the parts to fix it and like most people back then, knew my dad when he, too, was in the Navy.
The world was a lot smaller back then.
When I bought my home in 1999, the first store I visited was Sears. Like my parents, I purchased most of my major appliances. It was something approaching a “right of passage” where I stood as my father once had, making the big decisions that you’d live with day-to-day for years to come.
I especially loved that Sears had opened a Craftsman Tool Store at Hilltop because it was, to me, the best part of a Sears store in a stand-alone setting that was closer to my house. I had an inkling that Sears might be in trouble when, despite appearing to have a steady stream of shoppers, this store was eventually closed and turned into an Office Depot.
My then-fiance moved in with me 10 years later and panicked because she had literally worked my clothes dryer to death – pronounced so by a captain from Virginia Beach Fire Department Company 8.
I wasn’t upset at all. Apparently a heater element went bad, filling the entire lower floor of my house with smoke, and the firefighters that responded instructed her not to use it until the machine had been repaired or replaced.
After assuring her that I wasn’t upset or angry with her at all, I said what I have heard myself many times: “We’ll just go to Sears and get a new one.”
I became suspicious there might be foulplay afoot when the washing machine keeled over just four days later. Either that or the washer died of grief from losing its companion of nearly a decade. I took my fiance to Sears where, for the first time in her life, she got to choose a brand new washer and dryer pair of her own.
The guys that delivered them to our home removed the old appliances, installed the new ones and repeatedly referred to her as Mrs. Frost. We were married just a few months afterward.
I’ll admit I hope our marriage lasts longer than the life of a major appliance. The large-screen tube-style television set I purchased there was only recently replaced after giving 14 years of good service. The outdoor storage shed that really was as easy to assemble as the sale paper said.
How many shoppers have dropped their car off on a Saturday at the Sears Auto Service Center that was closed and demolished years ago, spent the Saturday at the mall shopping, returned later to pick up their car and headed home on a new set of tires, brakes or shocks?
I remember the people who worked at Sears in their various departments. These were “middle class” jobs that people could support a family on back in those days. Whichever department you visited, chances were excellent that the sales people had sold your family other products in the past, knew their products inside and out and were good at pointing out every feature. All backed by the rock-solid reputation.
Despite the clear writing on the wall for many months, the news that my Sears store at Pembroke will be closing in the near future is especially disappointing.
The boon that retail shopping has been for companies like Amazon, UPS and FedEx – as well as some bad financial decisions – spelled disaster for a company that was once thought to be invincible. I remember my older brother once saying, “Ain’t no such thing as Sears & Roebuck losing money.”
So today, I am going to use the technology that helped lead to the demise of Sears by choosing and paying for a new lawnmower and picking it up at the store.
I’m not going to wait for the liquidation sale to save $20 or $30 because there’s a good sale on right now. It came from Sears, so I’m still confident it will pay me back with years of reliable service.
I’m only sorry that Sears won’t survive because, whatever else changed in the world, Sears was there with products and service people thought would be there for them in years to come.
Frost is a web designer, campaign consultant, photographer and writer who is a lifelong resident of Virginia Beach.
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