Thursday, January 23, 2014

No more “Sears” on State Street! Will anyone in Chicago miss it in the least?

My initial reaction to learning this week that Sears plans to close its so-called “flagship” store on State Street was to wonder to myself, “Didn’t they just get here?”

Big news! Or the ultimate "ho-hum?"
It actually shocked me to realize that the return of Sears to State Street occurred in 2001. They’ve been back for nearly 13 years – with the help of funds provided by city government from Tax Increment Finance districts. It was state funding that kept the corporate headquarters in suburban Hoffman Estates a few years ago.

YET I ALSO have to confess that perhaps it is people just like myself who are responsible for Sears’ inability to maintain a major department store in the downtown Chicago area.

For in those 13 years that Sears was back on State Street, I personally never set foot in the store. From accounts I have heard and read from people who have been inside, they were the rarity.

There weren’t enough customers for Sears to make a go of it. Some of you may want to wisecrack that none of the Sears stores have enough customers to survive. But the modern-day Sears customer is someone who is using one of their suburban shopping mall customer.

Not exactly the kind of person who’s going to want to make the trip to downtown to lug around shopping bags from store to store in search of their life’s necessities and luxury items.

YES, I REALIZE that there are many millions of people who work in the Loop who could include a trip to Sears in with their routine before returning home. Although I suspect even many of them weren’t going to want to be bothered.

It’s hard to think of the State Street Sears store as the company “flagship” when it most likely was an afterthought to any kind of person who was still inclined to think “Sears” when they had shopping to do!

The Chicago White Sox' "real" home....
Which is why the idea of Sears on State Street (at State and Madison streets, to be exact) will be no more once we get into spring. In fact, the whole idea of Sears as a Chicago entity is really no more. The corporate headquarters is in suburban Hoffman Estates – and even that has threatened to leave our area altogether in recent years.

Sears, it seems, has become an element of Chicago history – not its present. Just like Marshall Field’s, that little tugboat-like building on the Chicago River that once housed the Chicago Sun-Times, and Comiskey Park.

... just like this is the "real" Sears
IN FACT, MY own thought process thinks that the Sears store on State Street is comparable to U.S. Cellular Field – the stadium used by the Chicago White Sox.

We go to it, we sit in its seats and watch a ballgame. Yet we can’t help but remember that old whitewashed brick building that used to be to the north of 35th Street and think the current structure is somehow lacking.

As though it’s not the real ballpark.

Just as Sears used to be one of the anchors of the shopping district on State Street, until they gave in to contemporary retail trends (the ones that favor a cut rate-type marketer like Wal-mart) and closed their long-time flagship a couple of blocks further south near Congress and Van Buren streets, the current Sears store somehow felt like it was an imitator.

TO THE POINT where I never felt compelled to spend money there – even though the history buff in me fully comprehends the significance of a business flagship on State.

So what happens now? Other than the fact that the Chicago Public Schools has expressed interest in moving their main offices from Clark Street over to State – taking over at least part of the store

Will we someday wonder why it was called Sears?
The company has said the closeout sale will begin soon and will carry on until mid-April. Maybe somebody has dreams of people who file their tax returns early, and spend their return in one last shopping spree on State Street.

Wouldn’t it be just Sears’ luck of late that they mark everything down significantly in price – only to find out that still, nobody wants to make the trip to buy.


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