I believe it was in 1964 when the late Pastor Bob Kelso and his wife picked me up after school at Burbank Elementary School on a chilly fall afternoon.
Our family belonged to Tulsa Bible Church, where Pastor Kelso preached. He and his wife had a heart for the children in our neighborhood at 5th Place and 73rd East Avenue. And their actions sometimes spoke louder than words.
My Dad was raising five boys by himself after the death of my Mom and it was tough on $100 a week he made as a barber.
The Kelsos wanted to make sure I had a good winter coat, so they took to me Sears at 21st Street and Yale Avenue after school and bought me a coat. I appreciated that then and even more now.
But now that Sears store, that was rebuilt several years ago, is closed as Sears – once the most successful retailer in America – is slowly downsizing and perhaps going under.
Back in the 1960s, that was a marvelous store. There were no malls, so Sears sold everything from clothing to appliances to hardware.
When I bought my first house in 1980, I bought a refrigerator from Sears on 21st Street. Credit cards were rare back then and my first card was a Trans World Airlines card (they were very easy to get). The second card was a Sears’ card.
Sears never manufactured appliances but they put the Kenmore brand name on various brands. I found a white refrigerator that was usually only used in business break rooms but it had the same compressor and warranty as the fancier refrigerators destined for home use.
When I got married in 1982, as a joke, my co-workers bought me 25 identical toasters for wedding gifts. Thankfully, Sears took back all those toasters and I got cash after I explained what happened.
Later, Susan and I purchased a washer and dryer set from Sears.
My father-in-law George Campbell bought me a socket set for a gift years ago from Sears. A part of it broke a few years back. I took it to Sears and got a free replacement.
Even though we got rid of our Sears’ credit cards, we continued to shop at Sears but mostly at the Sears in Woodland Hills Mall. It’s probably been 10 years since I bought any clothes at Sears and that was a pair of Levi jeans.
I went to that Woodland Hills Mall store this summer and was shocked at how empty it seemed. And there weren’t many customers.
I guess Wal-Mart has officially supplanted Sears (and Kmart).
In July, Sears announced it was closing another 43 stores, including Kmarts in Bartlesville and Shawnee. That’s on top of the 265 closings Sears has announced for all of 2017. This will bring the number of Sears stores and Kmart down to fewer than 1,140. Five years ago, there were 2,073 stores.
In June, the Sears closed in Midwest City in the declining Heritage Park Mall. Sears had been in Midwest City since 1959.
In March, Sears announced it would close 18 Kmarts in Oklahoma, including all of them in Oklahoma City. The last Tulsa Kmart at 21st Street and Mingo Road is closing.
Now the only Sears stores in Oklahoma are in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman.
Why is Sears slowly dying?
One reason is the Internet. Ironically, Sears began as a catalogue company and morphed into a retail operation. Now, people buy so much on-line.
This summer, I have purchased two suits (after trying them on at a local men’s store) online and a pair of dress shoes. The prices were dramatically better. You can go to a retail store, check out the merchandize and then save money buying it online.
And frankly, Sears used to be one of the best print advertisers in the nation. Sears’ newspaper ads drove millions of customers to the stores for great bargains.
If I went to Sears today and asked them to put an ad in the Tulsa Beacon, they wouldn’t give me the time of day. The idea of being loyal to a store has vanished. Decades ago, newspapers would promote local retailers but that no longer exists. It’s every man for himself.
Wal-Mart and the big box stores like Sam’s Wholesale Club have captured a lot of business from Sears. There was a time when Wal-Mart and Kmart were on the same level but Wal-Mart took off and Kmart shrank. I never was a big fan of Kmart and stores like Big Lots dug into their sales of cheap, imported goods.
Going shopping at Sears used to be a big event. That’s not true anymore.
I wonder where the pastors of today are taking the poor kids?