Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Late Sixties Sears Scenes

As the sixties drew to a close, Sears continued to reign as the world’s top retailer, and a respected American institution. Probably the highest profile evidence of this was the company’s bold plan to move to a new downtown Chicago headquarters, Sears Tower, construction of which would soon be underway. The tallest building in the world at the time, Sears would relocate there from its antiquated Homan Avenue headquarters in 1973. (Sears would relocate its offices from the Tower to a sprawling complex in suburban Hoffman Estates in the early/mid 90’s, but it continues to bear the company’s name). The Sears Tower’s observation deck has remained one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions since it first opened.

Of a more everyday nature, the photos above show typical Sears scenes from 1969. The first photo shows a Sears serviceman emerging from his turquoise service truck, carrying what looks to be a pretty heavy tool box. Sears had a huge fleet of these trucks nationwide, and they were a very common sight during my childhood. No doubt that Kenmore appliances and Silvertone electronics were big sellers in my neighborhood.

In the second photo, a label is carefully sewn into a dress, part of Sears’ monster-selling Winnie the Pooh product line. In 1966, Walt Disney released the short film “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”, the first of three such films to be released in a six-year period under rights Disney had secured several years earlier. The Disney studio redesigned the Pooh characters from the original Ernest Shepard designs to a more modern and colorful appearance, one that can safely be said is far more familiar than the original to children today. A year earlier (1965) in a major coup, Sears snapped up exclusive merchandising rights (save for books and a relatively few other items) from Disney to the Pooh characters. Virtually every stuffed animal or clothing article sold outside of Disney parks for the next 30 years, if it featured a Pooh character, came from Sears. In the mid-90’s, mindful of the incredible popularity of the Pooh merchandise (estimated $1 billion value at the time, considerably greater than that of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck), Disney chose not to renew the Sears contract. Recently, a new line of Pooh merchandise has been introduced at Sears to great fanfare. Disney continues to market Pooh items through other channels, however.

The third photo shows a well-dressed couple checking out shag carpet in a selection of groovy colors, and the last photo is a close-up of the legendary legend which greeted customers above Sears’ entrances near and far. As mentioned previously, these are still commonly seen today in older Sears stores.


  1. These are great. I remember the window signs and turquoise trucks very well, and Winnie the Pooh: what can I say about Winnie the Pooh? Those stories were a big part of my early childhood and the Sears connection was always lying under the surface but never as obvious as when you spelled it out. Thanks again.

  2. Hee, hee, gotta love the shag carpet!

    I find it interesting that the city didn't fight to keep Sears HQ in downtown Chicago or did they?

  3. I've often said - myself and others on the trailing edge of the Boomers are the last of the "Sears Generation". Gen X grew up on Kmart, WalMart, and Gold Cards...

    Boomers grew up looking forward to getting a charge account at Sears.

  4. Steven - Thanks. They really were part of the everyday landscape for many of us. Regarding WTP, in my case, almost no one had VCR's until I was in high school, and even then it was rare until 1982 or so, after I'd graduated. When the Winnie the Pooh stuff was shown on the NBC Disney Sunday night show in the late 60's and 70's, it was always a huge deal. I vividly remember the Sears pooh displays.

    Didi - I had already left Chicago by that time, but I don't recall any big efforts the city made. Sears' offices took up about 1/2the building, so it had to have taken a while to reoccupy.

    DerekL - It was my first card. I got it around age 19 or 20. The first thing I bought with it was a weight set. Mistake.

  5. That's the Sears I remember!

    Specifically it makes me think of one store, and that store was in the old Naugatuck Valley Mall(now long gone) in Waterbury,CT.

    In the early 1990's that store kept it's late 60ness and 70ness all the way to the end of the mall in 1997.

    The store coincidently opened in 1969, outside it was all red brick, including the storefront, which had a huge Sears sign in all caps (like this: SEARS). The outside version was in all caps also except it was on a black rectangular box facing west. The interior was from the 1980's though, all white walled and red striped, (it had a high ceiling) it was two stories,the second story was less impressive,and the exit to the mall interior had the 1984 Sears logo on it in dark red lettering with a greeting that read something along the lines of "Thank you for shopping at Sears, Please Come again." I definately remember that it had a carpeting section at the back near the exit to the parking lot.

    (BTW I was born in 1987)

    You want to hear something sad? My house (that I've lived in since 1990) has really old carpeting, I think it's a later version of shag carpeting hart to tell LOL.

  6. YAY!!!! I being born in 1978, had ALOT of pooh merchandise from Sears.

    My mom tells me my mobile and crib layette and clothes were all winnie the pooh sears brand. Oh and the crib had pooh on it too.

    My first card was Sears card also.

  7. Mark - Thanks for the details on the Waterbury store. Any chance your shag carpet came from Sears?

    Amanda - I think we've got an ancient Pooh stuffed doll around here somewhere, and sure enough, it has the Sears label! Thanks.

  8. When I was five, I had a Sears Winnie the Pooh dress. It was my favourite, so I wore it until it got much too small (being unable to breathe was a dead giveaway) and even then refused to give it away to some younger girl in the neighbourhood. Instead, I told my parents, I'd save it for when I had children of my own.

    The children never materialized, but I still have the dress.

  9. Cora - Thanks for sharing that great story! Ah, the choices we have to make as kids (in your case between breathing or wearing the Winnie the Pooh dress). I'll bet a lot of today's adults have a Sears Pooh item packed away somewhere.

  10. My Pooh dress was doubly valuable to me, because it was from the US (purchased at a Sears in Biloxi, MS, in 1978) and very different from the children's clothes you could buy in Germany at the time. Whatever you can say about Sears, they made lovely children's clothing in the 1970s. The appliances were pretty good, too. My parents still have a Kenmore disposer in their kitchen (never available in Germany because of environmental regulations) and a haircutting set bought from either Sears or K-Mart thirty years ago. Both still in working order, though the haircutting set needed some plastic parts replaced.

    I also had a Winnie-the-Pooh music box (certainly from Sears as well) at around the same time. I'm not sure where it is, probably in a box on my parents attic.

  11. Cora - I had several Sears clothing items (no Pooh stuff, I was just a bit old for that), and I also recall the quality was very good. That quality extended in many cases as well to appliances, such as those you mentioned.

    And Biloxi, of all places! Your family must have traveled extensively here in the states.