[Kelly’s Newspaper Column]
We recently took a boat tour on the Chicago River that focused on the architecture and history of The Windy City. (Supposedly that label had something to do with a bunch of windbag politicians, and not the weather.) Of the many impressive buildings we saw were some that were originally owned by Montgomery Ward.
My demographic and older know that store and may even know that Wards was the first to be a catalog retailer. I thought that honor belonged to Sear’s. Sears Roebuck to be exact.
There were only a handful of children on this cruise and they were properly bored and didn’t care about buildings let alone references to “Monkey Wards.” The tour guide said she and many others used to call it that (as did my family) and waxed poetic over the thrill of getting catalogs in the mail to peruse and dog ear. She told us that Sears reportedly made its catalog a bit smaller in size so that you would put it on top of the Wards catalog and hence go to it first. Nice marketing strategy if that is true.
But Wards is long gone. Many Sear’s stores are too. They have sold off most the K-Mart stores too. I think mine is the last generation to know the phrase Blue Light Special. It would seem so odd now to be in a store and have an announcement come over the intercom telling shoppers to head to housewares to get bath towels now on sale. Honestly it would seem weird to be in a store. I hardly ever go shopping. And that makes me part of the reason why things are changing.
But I recall the famous Blue Light. We didn’t think of anything of it, but in store on the spot price markdowns seems genius. Or decidedly out of date. How many people would show up in sporting goods today to get a sale on fishing tackle? Now the only time you get a crowd in a store is a Saturday or when the holiday shopping fever hits in November. Many people now simply do not go to stores. All the families named Penney, Macy, etc. never could have predicted the world we live in now.
Online shopping has become the norm. We use our computers and our phones to take care of business. One click shopping is easy. We are all about convenience.
An article recently listed all the retailers that are shuttering more stores this year. They include Sears, Kmart, Macy’s (now considered the nation’s largest department store), and even WalMart. Yes, some WalMarts are saying goodbye.
Designed Ralph Lauren has seen a decline in sales and is shutting down stores. Other stores are too. It’s everything. Sports Authority is gone. Office Max was absorbed into Office Depot and now Office Depot is also closing more stores.
Four-year-olds today will never know a wish list catalog but they do know how to tell Alexa to order a toy. A device that sits on the kitchen counter that we talk to, and it talks back, with realtime information still seems science fiction to me.
The world keeps turning. I keep up, for the most part. I also know I belong to those of a “certain age.” I take boat rides that talk about old buildings, history, and a company fondly referred to as Monkey Wards. And “Attention, Kmart shoppers!” still makes me smile.