What Really Happened to Sears
You might think you know the story of the downfall of Sears, but you really don’t.
Updated January 5, 2022
For over a century, Sears was one of this nation’s leading retailers. In the 1920s, you could literally buy a house from Sears. The postwar years saw Sears moving into malls across the land. KMart started in 1962, the same year two other discount retailers, Target and Walmart opened their doors. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, KMart was the go-to place for finding things at a good price. Shoppers were on the lookout for their famous blue light specials. In 2005 Sears and Kmart merged to create Sears Holdings.
But then something happened. Over the last decade, hundreds of stores were closed and the two chains are basically defunct.
The common story is that Sears and Kmart didn’t keep up with the times and they couldn’t compete with Amazon. Now the online retail behemoth does have a role in the demise of Sears, but it's only a small role. Actually, the reason Sears and Kmart have vanished from American retail is because of one man- the one-time CEO of Sears Holdings, Eddie Lampert. This is a saga that very few know.
I’ve had an odd obsession with the downfall of Sears and Kmart for quite some time, reading an odd story here and there that followed what Lampert was doing to the stores. But for the most part, the media ignored the story. It gave Lampert the perfect cover to do decimate Sears Holdings, putting thousands of employees out of work.
“When Eddie Lampert bought Sears in 2000 and then he bought Kmart in 2005, they were both declining, but both were still pretty good businesses. They had about 3500 stores between the two of them. There were a lot of opportunities there, they had loyal customers,” said Warren Shouldberg, a retail journalist that has followed the downfall of Sears in a recent interview. Shoulberg goes on to explain what Lampert has done to Sears. “His strategy from the very beginning was to pull cash out of that business. It was not to run the business because if it had been to run the businesses, we would have seen very different activities, but instead, they kept selling real estate.” Shoulberg says. “It wasn’t just real estate they sold, they sold brand names (think…