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Sears Town's Tragic Death Leaves an Impact

Cheryl is a licensed, ordained minister and has a BA in Psychology and Church ministry.

The cover of an old Sears catalog.

The cover of an old Sears catalog.

The Lemon Frog Shop

As a young girl in elementary school, my family shopped in a Kroger store in the North East section of town. The exit doors were to the east of the checkout lines, but if you walked straight ahead after paying for your groceries, there were glass doors that led to Sears and Roebuck in the same building. Once opened, for me, it was like when Willy Wonka led the children through the chocolate factory to the room with the chocolate stream. Another example would be Dorothy getting her first glance of Oz.

The Lemon Frog Shop was the first place I encountered one day as my grandma was shopping in Kroger. The mannequins wore mini skirts, go-go boots, and hats with wide brims. Back then, this was called "mod" dressing.

I was fascinated with the styles and often snuck off to take a look while whichever family member was in Kroger. I would imagine what I would look like in those fashions and pretend I would be the best-dressed girl in school. Not long after this, the Kroger closed and Sears then inhabited the entire building. The Lemon Frog shop was no more, and a budget shop with women's clothes took over Kroger's former space.

A page from the Lemon Frog Shop catalog.

A page from the Lemon Frog Shop catalog.

I Shopped and Worked at Sears

In Roanoke, Va., the Sears store was referred to as "Sears Town." There was a huge toy department in the back of the store that was referred to as "The big toy box at Sears." Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday, Santa Claus would descend from a helicopter onto the roof of the store and this signaled the official beginning of the holiday shopping season. A lot of people gathered at Sears to watch Santa, but others could see him on television.

During the days of my childhood, when the Lemon Frog Shop was a part of Sears Town, I would go in and back to Kroger without ever seeing an employee. All I can recall from that period is the dinging of the elevators. In November 1977, I began working for the Sears Credit Central, which was upstairs in the back of where Kroger used to be. At this time, the retail store had lots of employees. In each department, there would be a sales clerk at the register and another employee who walked the floor and answered the customer's questions.

In 1985, Sears Town moved a few miles away into a mall space, and to me this was the beginning of the end.

The outside of a Sears.

The outside of a Sears.

Changes for the Worse

When I worked at Sears Town from 1977–1985, there were many full-time employees who worked 40 hours a week and earned an hourly salary. We had paid vacation as well as six weeks of sick leave for maternity or illnesses. The longer you worked, the more vacation you earned, and there were also six paid holidays each year.

Over the years, I heard employees say the company was laying off full-time workers and only hiring part-time. Hourly salaries became a thing of the past, and everyone was on commission. Cash registers were no longer in each department; instead, there were two on each floor in central locations. There were no longer workers who were familiar with their particular departments who could assist shoppers. Also, now that the retail store was no longer in its own building, it simply became known as Sears, and Town was dropped from the name.

Sears Gone Without Notice

In December 2018, my husband and I were in the local Sears at about 10:30 AM. It used to be that, near Christmas time, temporary workers were hired and lines were backed up with Christmas shoppers. We were stunned as we walked throughout the entire downstairs and saw not one shopper or any employees. There was this eerie silence as we went up the escalator.

On the upper level, we found an item we were looking for and went to the register, where another shopper was waiting to pay for his purchase. We stood for about seven or eight minutes, rang a bell and no one came. The other shopper left his items on the counter. We put ours back on the shelf. As we were going down the escalator, we noticed an employee coming out of a back room.

How sad to see this once busy store reduced to nothing during the biggest shopping season of the year. My husband and I discussed that this was probably the beginning of the end of Sears, and now that store has closed for good.

It Was Where Everyone Shopped

At one point, Sears was the place where practically everyone shopped. Whenever I went to the retail store from the credit department, I always saw someone I recognized. To be in the store filled with merchandise and not see but one other customer and only one employee was very sad indeed. The closing of Sears has had an impact not just on myself but for many who once depended on the former retail giant.

© 2019 Cheryl E Preston