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When Sears sold cars

The Sears Motor Buggy brought drivers into the automobile age for just $395.

Posted: Oct 15, 2018 10:27 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2018 10:57 PM

For so many people who grew up before the internet, the Sears catalog WAS the internet.

The thick, heavy books had tools, dishes, TVs, clothes, appliances and just about anything else you'd need around house. They even sold houses for a while.

The Sears Christmas catalogs provided hours and hours of entertainment for kids, who could flip through the dog-eared pages and dream about playing with the latest toys.

News that the once-mighty 132-year-old company has filed for bankruptcy is triggering nostalgia for many former customers who grew up with the brand.

Sears' extraordinary history: A timeline

Rick Smith said the catalog gave his family the opportunity to buy things that were hard to get in Paris, Kentucky, a town of about 8,000 people about 20 miles from Lexington.

"We bought all of our televisions and appliances from Sears, as well as most of the clothes that I and my two brothers wore," he said. "The Sears Christmas 'Wish Book' was a favorite at our house, and I can recall picking out toys from that."

Back then, Sears didn't ship your purchases to your house. Your order would come to a local catalog store aand they would call so you could come pick it up.

"When you knew you had something really neat ... it felt like it was taking forever to arrive!"

Smith also remembered saving up his allowance in high school to buy suede and leather dark saddle shoes, so he'd have a nice pair for speech tournaments.

He got his first credit card from Sears when he was in college because his dad told him he needed to establish credit.

Smith said he was a bigger than average young man, so it was an added bonus that the store had a good big and tall selection.

"For many years thereafter, Sears Flexslax were my go to dress slacks, and I also bought dress shirts and a couple of suits there, too," Smith said.

Smith said he hasn't shopped at Sears in a while -- the store at his local mall closed a couple of years ago -- but he still feels a bit wistful about the bankruptcy news.

The arrival of the Christmas Wish Book was also a highly anticipated event for Alexina Navarro and her brother and sister. They would dutifully circle the things they wanted Santa to bring them, but Navarro and her sister pined for clothes like their friends would be wearing.

"We weren't interested in the toy section of the catalog," she said. "We desperately wanted to fit in with our peers' clothing choices, and not be ostracized."

Her mom made their clothes, and Navarro said they weren't like what other kids were wearing in the '60s and '70s.

"We should have been grateful, but we really weren't. We didn't appreciate going to the local fabric store and sorting through the patterns and cloth. We wanted to look like everyone else," she said.

Her mom tried to make outfits like the ones in the catalog, but they weren't the same.

Navarro remembers her mom buying her a warm winter coat from Sears because she was going to college in Portland, Oregon.

"My last purchase before heading off was a very bright kelly green wool coat that I got to choose myself!" she said.

Her dad taught her to drive in a Sears parking lot, and when her first used car needed brakes, "my dad took me into Sears Auto Shop to learn how to take care of these things like a big girl."

Navarro doesn't shop at Sears now. She said she's had a few car batteries replaced there over the years, but it's been a long time.

Daniel O'Donnell made what he called "the first major purchase of my young life" from the Sears catalog.

He saved his paper route earnings for a year to get the $35 to buy a 3-inch refractor telescope and an extra lens and filters. That was a lot of money for an 11-year-old in 1968.

"When I was a boy, I was a 'space kid,'" O'Donnell said, adding that he loved building models of NASA rockets.

He now does information security for a company that makes next-generation satellites.

O'Donnell said his dad worked for Sears when Allstate Insurance was part of the company. He still shopped there occasionally until last year, when the store in his town closed.

The bankruptcy isn't the end for the chain, but Sears and Kmart's parent company plans to close 142 of its worse performing stores as part of the bankruptcy plan.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 304023

Reported Deaths: 3580
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin641421113
Ramsey27059502
Anoka21526225
Dakota21268190
Washington13529113
Stearns13524108
St. Louis8433108
Scott820154
Wright746139
Olmsted653534
Sherburne570941
Clay483956
Carver455913
Blue Earth405214
Rice403136
Kandiyohi396821
Crow Wing353431
Nobles304929
Chisago304410
Otter Tail300522
Benton293348
Winona273730
Mower257423
Douglas250735
Polk248923
Morrison228029
Lyon213411
Beltrami211917
McLeod205011
Becker199815
Goodhue196728
Steele19137
Itasca185523
Isanti184917
Todd178413
Carlton177715
Nicollet158725
Freeborn15125
Mille Lacs149931
Le Sueur144911
Cass138610
Waseca137811
Brown136415
Pine13138
Meeker12398
Roseau11454
Hubbard111924
Martin111220
Wabasha10301
Redwood91619
Chippewa8527
Dodge8380
Cottonwood8333
Watonwan8334
Renville83124
Wadena7736
Sibley7724
Rock7569
Aitkin75529
Pipestone71018
Houston6854
Fillmore6770
Yellow Medicine63311
Pennington6277
Kanabec59613
Murray5783
Swift5758
Faribault5422
Pope5281
Stevens5063
Clearwater5058
Jackson4841
Marshall4758
Lake4066
Koochiching3855
Wilkin3715
Unassigned36759
Lac qui Parle3613
Lincoln3511
Norman3417
Big Stone3072
Mahnomen2904
Grant2726
Kittson2138
Red Lake2053
Traverse1461
Lake of the Woods951
Cook660

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 225897

Reported Deaths: 2345
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33451334
Linn14206164
Scott1116385
Black Hawk10849134
Woodbury10323124
Johnson948636
Dubuque918291
Story677621
Dallas633657
Pottawattamie624570
Sioux369125
Webster357833
Cerro Gordo351544
Marshall347846
Clinton327540
Buena Vista304114
Des Moines287920
Muscatine286468
Warren279611
Plymouth274242
Wapello255071
Jones229813
Jasper217443
Marion204320
Lee202217
Carroll197322
Bremer194212
Henry18227
Crawford174316
Benton169519
Tama153840
Jackson144313
Delaware143221
Washington140214
Dickinson138210
Boone136311
Mahaska126727
Wright12336
Clay11714
Buchanan116410
Hardin115010
Page11294
Clayton11105
Hamilton11059
Cedar107413
Harrison106729
Calhoun10617
Kossuth10566
Floyd104116
Mills10407
Fayette103310
Lyon10268
Butler10116
Poweshiek98913
Winneshiek96212
Iowa94612
Winnebago91723
Hancock8607
Louisa85816
Sac8578
Grundy85611
Chickasaw8494
Cherokee8374
Cass80823
Allamakee79911
Mitchell7884
Appanoose78710
Humboldt7695
Union7676
Shelby76211
Emmet76024
Guthrie75215
Franklin73521
Jefferson7112
Madison6804
Unassigned6620
Palo Alto6514
Keokuk5967
Pocahontas5574
Howard5529
Greene5220
Osceola5211
Ida48713
Clarke4824
Taylor4643
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Davis4619
Monroe44312
Adair4408
Monona4332
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