Monday, August 8, 2011

Would we really miss Sears if it left? Strategy reminiscent of the White Sox

I have to confess. I can’t recall the last time I actually purchased anything from Sears.

I doubt I’m at all unique in that regard. The retailer with lots of history and significance to the Chicago-area economy throughout the years is having its own economic struggles.

Lots of Chicago history. But what is its present value?

SO MUCH SO that the company reportedly is considering locating its corporate headquarters somewhere else. We wouldn’t be able to claim Sears as “one of our own.” That honor (if you believe the reporting of the Associated Press) would fall to Boston or the District of Columbia.

But in light of the fact that so few of us are continuing to shop at Sears, I wonder if we’d really care if they left.

Now as many business-oriented people believe, Sears is letting it be known that they may leave the Chicago area altogether and give our business world a symbolic blow of rejection because what they really want is some sort of concessions from government officials that will help boost their bottom line WITHOUT having to go to the trouble of boosting their sales.

Tax breaks of some sort. Perhaps some sort of financial help in terms of maintaining their properties. Who’s to say what they want, or what the state will be willing to give.

BECAUSE GOV. PAT Quinn has said Illinois is willing to do what it takes in order to keep the Sears “brand” as a Chicago-area based company (their headquarters these days is in suburban Hoffman Estates – which is why it’s now the Willis Tower).

On an intellectual level, I’m sure one can argue that there are limits to what Sears ought to be given by the state. One legislator went so far as to tell the Associated Press that Sears is on “the downswing” and shouldn’t get much in the way of anything in terms of financial concessions.

But still, Sears is Sears. If anything, it might be more of a symbolic blow to Chicago’s image to lose Sears than it was when Marshall Field’s officially became nothing more than the Chicago branch of Macy’s.

If anything, it reminds me of the politicking that took place some 23 years ago when the Chicago White Sox went so far as to sign a lease with officials in St. Petersburg, Fla., to have the ballclub play their games in the (then) newly-constructed Florida Suncoast Dome.

IT WAS ONLY when the General Assembly, with its arm twisted by then-Gov. James R. Thompson, engaged in some creative political maneuvering to approve the measure that resulted in the construction of U.S. Cellular Field.

Which White Sox officials later admitted was their true desire. Threats to become the Florida White Sox were merely to scare Chicago political people into pressuring the Legislature to act – and was actually the recommended strategy to the ballclub of Thompson himself.

Now I know of some political people who voted for the White Sox move back in 1988 because of the sentiment that it would be “too embarrassing” for Chicago to lose such a long-standing baseball franchise (a charter member of the American League when it was created in 1900, upgrading to “major league” status in 1901).

Which sounds way too much like the rhetoric we’re likely to hear in coming months. Losing Sears would be the ultimate degradation to the Chicago-area economy (let alone Illinois).

YET I WONDER just how much Illinois can afford to concede in light of the current economic condition? Or if any of the other cities that are making offers to try to attract Sears to their municipal boundaries can seriously afford to pay for whatever perks they are offering the historic retailer?

Should we regard the idea of a D.C.-based Sears in the same way we think of the Florida White Sox – a cute idea that just isn’t practical?

But on the other hand, if Illinois officials decide to play their hand too much like a sledge hammer, will they wind up offending Sears to the point where the company leaves for another city just out of spite?

Because a Sears move wouldn’t be a cheap one for the company. They would need a pretty significant offer to make a move worth their while. That is something our local politicos ought to keep in mind when contemplating what it is worth to keep the corporate headquarters – which admittedly provides for significant numbers of jobs in the northwest suburbs.

There's a reason it's now called the Willis Tower

I KNOW THAT one of  the legislators who voted for the White Sox stadium (then-state Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch) has since said her vote for her favorite baseball team was one of the “five worst votes” she made during her 18 years in the General Assembly.

If we go too far overboard in trying to concoct an economic package to keep Sears in the suburbs, will we have our current crop of legislators making similar comments someday about the company that once had Hammond, Ind. watchmaker Alvah Roebuck as an equally-prominent part of its name?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sears is a Fortune 100 Company. You may not shop there, but lots of other people do. Further, the company isn't on the "downswing" so much as it's the most adverse retail climate we've seen in decades. Drive through a suburb or walk down Clark Street in Chicago and you can verify that.