If the Concord Sears closes, lots of history will go with it

  • Louise Skora of Epsom reflects on what Sears has meant to her and her husband Walter before shopping at the Steeplegate Mall on Tuesday in Concord. Sears announced Monday it will close 142 stores nationwide, though the Concord location will remain open. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Louise Skora of Epsom reflects on what Sears has meant to her as she and her husband Walter went shopping at the Steeplegate Mall on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Walter Skora of Epsom reflects on what Sears has meant to him as he waits for his wife to shopping at the Steeplegate Mall on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Breeanna Robinson of Hampstead takes a break Tuesday from her job in Bow to look at washers and dryers at Sears in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Pam DePalma of Chichester was going to go through the Sears store on her way to another store in the Steeplegate Mall on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2018 5:40:30 PM

Louise and Walter Skora of Epsom recalled the warmth and nostalgia offered by the fading corporate giant a long time ago.

Louise, a retired nurse, went to Sears as a little girl. She’d go downstairs to buy a bag of warm peanuts. Her husband, Walter, said his family bought their first television set at Sears, circa 1950, the deluxe 12-inch model that was the envy of the entire block.

This was neighborhood news.

“That was considered pretty big back then,” said Walter, who’s long been retired from the trucking business. “I’ll miss it if it happens. It’s been around a long time.”

Since the 19th century, in fact. Now, though, Sears department stores are dying like leaves, ending an era in which going to a large store meant family time and adventure.

The Sears here, at the Steeplegate Mall, remains open, but no one knows for how long. This week, the company announced it will close 142 Sears stores by the end of the year as the retail business continues to spiral downward in an age of new technology.

The Portsmouth, Salem and Manchester have already been tagged to close, which will leave only five in the state. Years ago, you couldn’t go far without driving by a Sears store.

“That was the place to go,” Louise Skora told me. “Not as much anymore. There’s so much more available to you.”

I found the elderly couple at their car in the Sears parking lot Tuesday in Concord. Walter sat on the passenger’s side with a cane leaning against his seat, his mobility greatly diminished. Louise stood outside.

Both reminisced. What young people don’t understand is that once upon a time, candy stores and department stores and little grocery stores meant a lot, to a lot of people, children included.

Sears sure meant something to Walter and Louise. They remembered the branch in downtown Manchester, on Elm Street, which moved to the Mall of New Hampshire 40 years ago and announced its closing last summer after more than 80 years in business.

“The corner of Elm and Lake Avenue,” Walter said, pinpointing the exact location of the Sears of his youth. “It was a tiny little store then. No bigger than a mom-and-pop shop.”

Louise recalled a downtown Sears in Manchester at the corner of Elm and Harrison Streets. She said the old reliable department-store remained her first choice when it came to buying the big items, like kitchen stuff.

“On-line shopping I do, yes, but not for appliances,” Louise said. “We wouldn’t shop anywhere else. This is like the last big place that’s going to fall.”

Breeanna Robinson of Hampstead, at Sears during her lunch break from her job in Bow, felt the old-school vibe that stores like Sears have provided through the years, and she’s just 28.

She came to Sears looking for a washer and dryer for her home, which is currently undergoing a facelift.

“When you think of the big places, you think of Sears and J.C. Penney and Macy’s,” Robinson said. “It’s sad to see them go away.”

Sears shares its parking lot with J.C. Penney, and the two ancient department stores, once kings in the retail business, sat side by side like a pair of seniors in wheelchairs, waiting for family members to visit before the inevitable end. 

“It goes way back, back to the time with my parents,” said Herb Windhagen of Epping.

He grew up in the Bronx and went to Sears as a kid. His wife, Ginny Windhagen, grew up in Pennsylvania, and she went to Sears, too.

In a bit of irony that foreshadowed today’s stay-at-home customers, they both ordered lots of stuff through the Sears catalog decades ago. “We were both in the military,” Herb said, “and that was our life’s blood.”

But that trend wasn’t nearly widespread enough to sink retail. Herb was plugged in, telling me the exact number – “142” – of stores that would close by the end of the year.

Ginny listed all the equipment she’s bought from Sears over the decades, like washer and dryers, stoves, generators, lawn mowers, snow blowers.

“If you turned our house upside down,” Ginny noted, “everything that fell out would be from Sears.”

Pam DePalma of Chichester came to the mall for a 1980’s-style outfit for her granddaughter’s 30th birthday Saturday, which will also include rollerskating in Massachusetts.

She used Sears last spring for a maintenance check on some of her older home appliances. She’s been shopping at Sears, well, for forever.

“I always shopped at Sears,” DePalma said. “The (catalog) would come to the house and we picked out what we wanted, which was everything, and hoped we got it for Christmas. It’s sad because it’s been around so long.”

One out-of-state shopper said she was upset that her hometown Sears in Ohio had already closed, while another customer worried that the United States Post Office might suffer the same fate as retail giants like Sears.

Ginny Windhagen never got that serious, but her problem represented a serio-comic scenario for common folk everywhere if Sears were to disappear entirely from the face of the Earth.

“Where,” Ginny asked, “are we going to get our vacuum cleaner bags?”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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