Thursday, September 19, 2019

Over 100 Years Later, Where Are They?

Department Store, Cosmetics CounterThis past summer, I realized that I haven't seen a couple of stores in town recently.  Both of these stores have been around for quite a long time but they seem to have started disappearing.  One is Sears and the other is Penny's.

Sears began back in 1886 when Richard Sears started a mail order watch company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  One year later, he moved his business to Chicago, and hired Alvin Roebuck to repair watches.  Together their mail order company sold watches and jewelry.

In 1889 Sears sold the business but a couple of years later, he and Roebuck began another mail order business but Sears sold his share of the business to Julius Rosenwald who manufactured clothing.  Sears stayed around to create the catalogues they sent out selling everything they could at low prices. Two events helped Sears reach more rural areas of America.  First the government established Rural Free Delivery in 1896 and then Parcel post in 1913 which allowed Sears to send mail to anyone.

I remember seeing reprints of the original Sears catalogues from the 1890's and early 1900's.  They had just about everything you'd find at a general store.  They had stoves, cooking gear, clothing, bicycles, cars and anything you could possibly want on a farm. Sears also owned Encyclopedia Britannica which they sold via their catalogue from 1920 to 1943.

Sears began opening retail outlets beginning with the first one in Chicago in 1925. By 1931, the number of retail stores had increased so much, their retail sales topped mail order sales for the first time.  Unfortunately, by the 1980's Kmart and Wal-mart stores expanded enough to surpass annual sales done by Sears and Roebuck.  Sears had to divest itself of its real estate, insurance, and other financial services they had for years in order to continue growing.  In 2002 , Sears acquired Land's End and three years later, they purchased Kmart.  Due to some bad moves, Sears was forced to sell off assets before declaring bankruptcy in 2018. They still have some stores but they are not the force they were.

J. C. Penney's began in 1902 when James Cash Penney along with two partners founded the Golden Rule Dry Goods store in Kemmerer Wyoming.  Over the next two years, he and his partners opened two more stores in other towns.  By 1905, JC Penney bought out his partners and acquired new investors/partners.  By the time they incorporated in 1913, J.C. Penney's had 34 stores spread across the west.  One year later, the company moved their headquarters to New York City.  In the mid 1920's the company became publicly traded and it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  Within two years, the company had over 1,300 stores.

J.C. Penney's did their part for the war effort during World War II by setting records selling war bonds.  The other thing is that even with the materials shortage, this company successfully increased their sales to $500 million.  The stored continued growing and maintaining a cash only policy until 1958 when they issued their first store credit card.  In 1962, J.C Penney purchased the General Merchandise Company there by entering the mail-order business for the first time in its history.

Over time, they chose to accept major credit cards but in the 1980's the store quit selling electronics, sporting goods, and photo items only to replace them with women's apparel.  Although they continued to acquire other businesses, they had to move their headquarters to Texas from New York City to save money.  By 1990's they began loosing money due to the economic recession that hit the area hard.  Due to struggling with increased costs of running physical stores, J.C Penney's opened an online division in 1999/2000 which did quite well.

Even with all this, J.C. Penney's struggled with the changes in the way people shop.  Even now, they are having to cut stores to stay afloat and there is a question of how long they can continue.  I don't think they have any stores in Fairbanks anymore and this explains quite a bit.  I suspect both of these chains will disappear completely from the scene.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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