Friday, November 23, 2018

Thank You for Shopping at Sears

Last month Sears declared bankruptcy. Today's news is that the company hopes to sell most of its profitable stores, perhaps to its biggest shareholder, to keep the business alive. We'll see how well that works.

I started working for Sears after graduating high school in 1977. (That's me behind the thick glass of the Cashier's Cage in this Spring 1978 Polaroid taken by a sweet CSUN coed working in the stationery/photo department across the aisle at the Sears in Northridge Fashion Center.) We were an "A" store, ranking among the biggest in the company. When something new happened at Sears, Northridge was among the first stores to do it. As an accounting student at CSUN I read the Wall Street Journal, which helped give me some insights into the company. Such as, Sears was already in trouble.

Granted, Sears was still the biggest department store by any measure. But K-Mart was moving up and Sears was not responding very well. I remember a front page WSJ story describing Sears' plans to overcome the competion. And then a year or so later, there was another front page story describing Sears' new plan, replacing the earlier, unsuccessful plan. I recall thinking as I read that new story, "Wait a minute; that earlier plan hasn't even been implemented in our store yet."

Throughout the '80s Sears tried several different strategies. The one that affected me most was the creation of the in-store "Sears Financial Network," where I spent the last 2½ years of my Sears employment at Sears Savings Bank, the company's California savings-and-loan, at the in-store Northridge SFC (Sears Financial Center) branch. SSB's branch operations that weren't sold to Citicorp or California Federal Savings were shut down at the end of 1987, shortly before I started seminary. Yes, I helped close a bank.

Kmart never caught Sears. Walmart would pass them both, becoming the top retailer in 1990. Kmart went bankrupt in 2002, emerging from bankruptcy the next year. In 2004, Kmart bought the now obviously struggling Sears, so today's Sears Holdings Corpoation is, in a sense, really Kmart.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Among My Civic Duties...

Pastor Zip sneaking into a polling place?
Yes, I voted.

I have yet to miss an election since I was eligible to vote. The includes one primary election years ago when I lived in Van Nuys where the only matter on the ballot was a seat on the LA Community College Board of Trustees, a non-partisan office where the candidates were actor Jack Albertson's wife (the incumbent and a leader in the very liberal California Democratic Council) and an otherwise forgotten person who was a member of California's left-wing Peace and Freedom Party. Since then I've quipped that I once voted for a communist -- because she was more conservative than the Democratic candidate. Mrs. Albertson handily won her third term without my help. But I digress...

I arrived at the Neighborhood House, where the voters of my precinct (and two others) cast their ballots, about a quarter after four in the afternoon. Walking into the voting room, I was quite pleased to see people in nearly all the voting booths and a short line ahead of me. I was voter #247. That's a pretty good turnout for these precincts, which are reliably Democratic while having a low voter turnout. That suggests it could be a good election night for Illinois Democrats -- even better than the pundits have been expecting.