Sears’ closing at Metcalf South marks end of an era for former patrons and the community

The Sears in Metcalf South Shopping Center lasted nearly half a century.
The Sears in Metcalf South Shopping Center lasted nearly half a century. The Kansas City Star

Standing alone beside the mountain of debris that once was Metcalf South Shopping Center, the Sears store of Scott Lane’s youth is passing its final summer surrounded by retail destruction.

“I was raised on Sears,” said Lane, who grew up just blocks from the shopping center that Sears anchored for nearly 50 years. “Now there’s this huge hole next to the store that you wouldn’t believe.”

Shoppers unfamiliar with the mall’s long-inevitable date with the wrecking ball might think a tornado ripped through everything but Sears, leaving Kenmore appliances without a scratch. Shoppers in the know, however, were saddened by Sears Holding Corp.’s announcement this week that the store at 9701 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park will close in mid-September.

Lane is a real estate agent with no connection to the property other than his childhood memories. He recalled his dad’s loyalty to Craftsman products and Sears’ lifetime warranty on wrenches and hammers. On August weekends in the late 1960s, the Lane kids rode the escalators to get decked out in new shirts, trousers, clothes and shoes.

“For my brother and I, there was no discussion of where we’d go for back-to-school clothes,” he said. “Sears was Walmart before there was Walmart.”

That store at Metcalf South had particular appeal for some shoppers who remember it opening in one of the first indoor malls in America. The clientele tracks older, said customer Sarah Large of Overland Park, who has been going there since she was a kid. Now she’s 38.

“I think a lot of the older folks you see there have been regulars from way back, who like more of a family atmosphere,” Large said on her way home Friday from purchasing Lands’ End merchandise. “Seems you could have a comfortable conversation with a salesperson.”

Lane’s family had moved into the then-new Nall Hills subdivision before the shopping center rose nearby. At 16, he worked for mall maintenance after losing a job at the French Market across 95th Street when his employers, running a small amusement park, learned he fibbed about his age.

The Sears store at Antioch Crossing in the Northland is shutting down this summer as well, one of 245 store closings the retailer announced earlier this year. The Metcalf South location was among a round of 20 more closings. The department store alongside its auto center had recently persevered as Metcalf South’s soul occupant.

“I think we’re seeing the end of Sears as it exists,” said Gary Mayerle of Boyle & Mayerle Architect in Overland Park. Before he joined the firm, the then-Boyle and Wilson Architect designed Metcalf South and other malls of the era.

“If Sears can’t be successful in Johnson County,” said Mayerle, “where will it succeed?”

Still, this Sears held on for just weeks shy of half a century, having opened its doors in October 1967. That was about two months after the rest of the mall celebrated its grand opening, which was attended by Miss America 1967, local legend Whizzo the Clown and Tony DiPardo’s orchestra.

Tracey Osborne grew up in the 1970s waiting for the Sears catalog to arrive so she could place orders — and excitedly await their arrival — at the small outlet in Carthage, Mo., her hometown.

“Almost anyone I’d know from that time would say they grew up with the Sears brand,” said Osborne, president of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. “Having such a large one at that time in Overland Park, it became an economic driver for us. This store was one of Sears’ national leaders.”

And to look at it now, with its north wall hugging a demolition site? “It’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s sad and unfortunate.”

Metcalf South is being razed by Lane4 Property Group and the Kronke Group to make way for a Lowe’s home improvement store. The Sears store, which is separately owned, will begin clearance sales on June 30.

The auto center will shut down late next month.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r