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How Sears Fell to Pieces

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A Photograph of the Store Front for Sears, Roebuck and Co in El Paso, Texas circa 1940. (Fotosearch/Getty Images)
A Photograph of the Store Front for Sears, Roebuck and Co in El Paso, Texas circa 1940. (Fotosearch/Getty Images)


In 1887, Richard W. Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck came together and put out their first mail-order catalog. Gradually, Roebuck’s name was dropped from the mix, and Sears established more and more physical locations where people could shop. The 130th anniversary of that inaugural calendar promises to be grim, however, because Sears is on the verge of bankruptcy. (Though, it should be noted, still holding on even as sales continue to slide.)

How did Sears fall so far? Hayley Peterson took an inside look at this collapse for Business Insider. For anyone with fond memories of visiting the store growing up or just saddened by the thoughts of more people losing their jobs, it’s a grim read. Peterson documents a bizarre culture in which the volatile CEO Eddie Lampert seemed as fixated on making sure shoppers were referred to as “members” not “customers” as he was on actually saving the chain.

The doors of the Sears at Eaton Centre are seen closed for the last time. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)


Of course, eccentric (and at times allegedly almost abusive) behavior could be largely ignored if the company were thriving. Sears decidedly is not. The numbers are horrifying. Peterson writes:

“Sales are down 37 percent since early 2013, Sears’ debt load has spiked to over $1.6 billion, and the company is losing well over $1 billion annually. To meet its obligations, the company has been selling off valuable brands and properties.”

Peterson documents a company trying to transform itself into an “asset-light” organization. Sadly, this seems to mean just hemorrhaging customers—excuse us, members—while selling off the very things that once drew so many eager shoppers.

To read more about the demise of this beloved business and see how an iconic chain can crater, click here.