One of the best laughs my wife and I had recently came one morning when we were discussing replacing our refrigerator. Terrie suggested we should go to Sears to check out the slightly damaged room. I piped up: “Sears? Are they still in business?”
For some reason, we both burst into laughter. After our hysterics died down—and it took far longer than you would imagine, but Terrie and I can get pretty silly—I got to thinking about Sears and other big box stores.
How many chains have come and gone over the decades, even as we keep building more? Circuit City and H.H. Gregg. Sports Authority and Herman’s. Woolworth and Gemco. Border’s Books, Crown Books, Waldenbooks. Child World. Kaybee Toys. Toys R Us, for god’s sake! Older or newer, the list of bankrupt big boxes is endless.
I remember the first time I heard the phrase “big box.” It was because of a guy named Eddie Antar and a chain of electronics stores that sprung up in the New York City area beginning in the early ‘70s. You remember him, right?
Crazy Eddie was everywhere: TV, radio, newspapers. Subway posters. Billboards. You couldn’t escape Crazy Eddie and his siren song of savings. Until he was indicted for securities fraud. The chain shut down in 1989.
What’s interesting is how many entrepreneurs keep trying to make big boxes work. Gander Mountain recently became Gander Outdoors when another sucker, I mean business, decided it could work. Maybe it wants to capture the market Dick’s is abandoning.
The problem, of course, is that businesspeople either don’t understand a sea change or believe they can survive anyway. It’s familiar and a little sad to me.
I worked in the newspaper business for 30 years. Just as the business side in journalism didn’t recognize the potential impact of the web on advertising revenue and determine a smart strategy early, retailers didn’t recognize the potential impact of the web on shopping patterns.
Today, I don’t read the newspaper and I’ll bet Terrie and I do half or more of our non-grocery shopping online. But I do feel for nostalgia’s sake and I have an errand to run this weekend. I want to hit Sears while it’s still around (“Hey Terrie, it hasn’t closed since we had that conversation, has it?”) and pick up some Toughskins. It was my go-to jeans as a kid.