Back to Sears
The 1943 Sears News Graphic wrote that the Sears catalog, “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.”
In addition to recording the changing scene in America, the Sears catalogs represent the work and efforts of thousands of Americans. Edgar Rice Burroughs, who later wrote the Tarzan series, worked for Sears. Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Gloria Swanson, Susan Dey, Cheryl Tiegs, and Stephanie Powers all appeared on the pages of Sears catalogs as models. The catalogs also featured Roy Rodgers, Ted Williams, Al Unser, and Gene Autry. Because the catalogs accurately reflect the styles and furnishings popular through the years, producers of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies frequently refer to them.
Sears issued only two major catalogs (Big Books) per year. In order to keep the collection a reasonable size, only one book per year was chosen for this collection. Also the basic design of the cover for the first few years were virtually identical, so those redundancies were not included either.
Spring 1961, Catalog No. 222A (75th Anniversary 1886-1961)
Spring 1962, Catalog No. 224K
Spring 1963, Catalog No. 226A
Spring 1964, Catalog No. 228K
Spring 1965, Catalog No. 230A
Spring 1966, Catalog No. 232K (19 year old Cheryl Tiegs)
Spring 1967, Catalog No. 234A
Fall 1968, Catalog No. 237H
Spring 1969, Catalog No. 238A
Fall 1970, Catalog No. 241H
Spring 1971, Catalog No. 242A
Spring 1972, Catalog No. 244K
Spring 1973, Catalog No. 245A
Fall 1974, Catalog No. 249H
Fall 1975, Catalog No. 251G
Fall 1976, Catalog No. 253H
Spring 1977, Catalog No. 254A
Fall 1978, Catalog No. 257H
Fall 1979, Catalog No. 259G
Spring 1980, Catalog No. 260K
Fall 1981, Catalog No. 263G (Cheryl Tiegs Collection)
Spring 1982, Catalog No. 264K
Spring 1983, Catalog No. 266A
Spring 1984, Catalog No. 268K
Spring 1985, Catalog No. 270A (Stephanie Powers Collection)
Spring 1986, Catalog No. 272B (100th Anniversary 1886-1986)
Fall 1987, Catalog No. 276
Fall 1988, Catalog No. 277
Spring 1989, Catalog No. 278
Spring 1990, Catalog No. 280
Fall 1991, Catalog No. 283
Spring 1992, Catalog No. 284
Spring 1993, Catalog No. 286
Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1993
By John Schmeltzer. Drew Bailey contributed to this report
The soul of an American institution, if not its heart, was cut out Monday when Sears, Roebuck and Co. announced the closing of its money-losing catalog division and the demise of its storied Big Book.
And though Sears also announced the closing of as many as 239 stores Monday and the elimination of about 50,000 full- and part-time jobs, it was the death of the Big Book that commanded America’s attention. The catalog that bound the country together, that brought the big city to the farm, that established Chicago as the world’s mail-order capital in the 1890s, will never be published again.
“The pages of those much-thumbed catalogs,” wrote William Cronon in “Nature’s Metropolis,” his prize-winning economic history of Chicago, “contained an encyclopedic description of modern life in the products . . . whose purchase would carry their owners onto a higher plane of material well-being.
“No matter how remote the community in which one lived . . . one could open the catalog and take a stroll down State Street, the most glamorous retail market anywhere west of Broadway.”
“This was a very difficult decision because the catalog is our heritage,” said Arthur Martinez, chairman of Sears’ Merchandise Group and the man who ordered Monday’s cuts. “It’s how Sears started.”
For Sears, no longer the nation’s largest retailer, radical change is no longer new. Last year, for example, the company announced it would spin off its brokerage, residential real estate and Discover Card businesses. Even before Monday, it had slashed 48,000 employees.
LEFT: Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1993
RIGHT: Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1993
Nonetheless, this was something extraordinary. It was the first mass shuttering of department stores in Sears’ history; 113 of them, including seven in Illinois-in Berwyn, Fox Lake, Lake Zurich, Centralia, Pekin, Freeport and Sterling-began closing their doors for the last time Monday.
In addition, Sears’ auto centers will concentrate on tire and battery sales, eliminating most repair work; the company will offer early retirement to some 4,000 salaried employees; and the marketing and supervision of the home-improvement and product-repair businesses will be consolidated to cut jobs.
In all, 16,000 full-time and 34,000 part-time positions will be eliminated. The company will take a $1.7 billion charge against earnings, including $800 million for eliminating the catalog. A total of 98,000 jobs will have been eliminated, leaving the company’s employment near the 300,000 mark.
For the catalog division, which has been on tenterhooks for the last three years as the company struggled to stem its rapidly rising losses-$130 million annually, even though annual sales were more than $3.3 billion-the end came swiftly. The division’s last Big Book, the Spring/Summer edition, has been published. Its last specialty catalog is slated to go to the printer in July.
The Big Book thus suffers the same fate as its older brother from Chicago, the Montgomery Ward catalog, which breathed its last seven years ago. Only J.C. Penney Co. will still produce a general merchandise catalog for national consumption.
The catalog was where Sears started-founder Richard Sears first offered watches by mail in 1886; a general-merchandise catalog followed 10 years later. And small-town America was where Sears built a department-store empire, for 80 years reigning as the nation’s No. 1 retailer. Its small B- and C-class stores provided the same link to State Street that the catalog did.
But with Monday’s store closings, Sears begins to abandon that same small-town America that grew up with it, only to embrace the discounted prices and name-brand merchandise of Wal-Mart and Kmart.
One of every four Americans still shops in a Sears store each year. One of every five, more than 50 million people, have worked for Sears at one time or another. And though the fact that so many people once worked at Sears is part of the problem, it also is part of the reason people care about the faltering giant.
“With this we are much more clearly focused on our core business,” said Martinez. “We will be a leaner but more successful enterprise.
“This is painful stuff. It’s very unsettling for the people affected. But we need to get through this,” he said.
But for 63-year-old George Bocchiere, a salesman in the Berwyn store, which will close March 31, the move was characteristic of many of the decisions made by company executives.
“Last year I took a pay cut-15 percent-and now this,” Bocchiere said. “Is that how they’re going to keep making money all the time? The leaders have to do some soul-searching and ask themselves why this keeps happening.”
One thing that is expected to “keep happening” is the reorganization of the Merchandise Group itself.
“I won’t talk about it,” said Martinez. “To say it was put on hold would be to acknowledge it was going on. I am continuing to look at our management structure.”
But Sears and Martinez are expected to announce soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday, that the Merchandise Group is being reorganized into three units: apparel, home furnishings and automotive. The group, headquartered in its new home in Hoffman Estates, operates with seven vice presidents who head women’s apparel, intimate apparel, men’s and children’s apparel, home fashions, home appliances, entertainment, home improvement and automotive.
“There will still be some changes going forward,” said Edward A. Brennan, Sears’ chairman and chief executive.
At the Merchandise Group’s new Hoffman Estates headquarters, financed by a taxpayer-underwritten incentive package that totaled $61.1 million, employees were told of the decision in mass meetings an hour after the news was made public.
The subsidies were described as Illinois’ largest job-retention plan, one that was designed to keep 5,500 jobs for the state when the Merchandise Group vacated Sears Tower. But the headquarters is now home to only 4,500 employees, and the company cut 4,900 Illinois jobs on Monday alone.
For the last five years, Sears has announced a series of major changes as it struggled to stop the flow of red ink from its stores. Only the operations of the Sears credit-card division kept the group from reporting losses each year.
Brennan attempted to cut the stores’ cost of doing business so it could more effectively compete with Wal-Mart, since 1991 the nation’s largest retailer (with Kmart No. 2 ahead of Sears). But he was only marginally successful, and he turned to an outsider, Martinez-hired just last year-for the decisions needed to turn the giant retailer around.
“Sears had to go to an outsider to get someone to do this,” said Tom Tashjian, retail analyst with First Manhattan Co. of New York. “Sears is a very paternal organization with very little turnover, particularly in the executive ranks. It’s a question of deciding of which children to keep.”
For Martinez, the decision was one of dollars and cents: which businesses were making money and which businesses weren’t; which stores were making money and which stores weren’t.
“Sears will now focus on core retail businesses and locations where we are either winning today or have the capacity to do so in the near future,” said the former Saks Fifth Avenue vice chairman. The stores Sears said it will close this year account for only 1.8 percent of its sales and only 4 percent of its square footage. But for the employees, profits and losses didn’t mean a whole lot Monday.
“It’s a good store; they just need to straighten themselves out,” said employee Bocchiere of the Berwyn store. “There were better times in the past.”
But Sears on Monday wasn’t interested in the past. It was positioning itself for the future.