Lewis Diuguid

Store closings affect shopping habits

Pedestrians walk through scaffolding past a Macy's Inc. store in New York. Last week, Macy's Inc., the largest U.S. department-store company, announced plans to shut down 100 stores out of its portfolio of 728 locations to focus on better-performing shops.
Pedestrians walk through scaffolding past a Macy's Inc. store in New York. Last week, Macy's Inc., the largest U.S. department-store company, announced plans to shut down 100 stores out of its portfolio of 728 locations to focus on better-performing shops. Bloomberg

Every time I pass Truman Road and Cleveland Avenue I think of the many runs that I used to make to the old Sears store.

It was at that store that I bought the appliances for my first house. I went to that Sears, built in the 1920s, to get a bunch of tools, a step ladder, double ladders and the interior and exterior paint to restore my South Hyde Park home, which during World War II was broken into three apartments. I got wrenches there to re-plumb the old place because the water pressure was atrocious.

It was at that Sears that I bought masonry tools to repair interior walls and ceilings and rebuild the exterior stonework. Sears provided the electrical tools I used to do some rewiring and put in light fixtures and switches to replace pull-strings with hanging bulbs in the 1913 house, which still had the original pipes in the ceilings for gaslights.

These were all skills that I learned working with my dad at his St. Louis chemical company. Previous owners of my current house in the Northeast area also depended on that same Sears store.

The old heating and cooling system, dishwasher and bathroom fixtures came from there. The Sears tags are still on them. It was a sad day when that old Sears store closed in the 1980s.

It followed the closings of other major stores such as Montgomery Wards, Macy’s and then the Jones Store downtown. Newer Sears and other anchor department stores at Bannister Mall and other shopping centers were to provide the sales for the future because they were closer to where people fleeing the city’s urban core had moved.

What looked like wise business decisions then aren’t working out so well in the internet age of online shopping. Macy’s last week announced it was closing 100 stores to better survive online shopping competition.

Sears Holding Corp. also is struggling. Sears announced earlier this year that it was closing nearly 80 stores to try to make the retailer, established in 1893, profitable again. They were to include 68 Kmarts and 10 Sears stores.

J.C. Penney’s reported a smaller loss for the second quarter compared with a year earlier, saying it benefited from store closings by Macy’s and Sears Holding Corp. Penney’s gain makes me question the wisdom of major retailers closing stores.

It stops the red ink bleeding of less profitable locations. But what disappears is homeowners’ ability to go someplace nearby to grab something for repairs. Lost also is the opportunity to browse for appliances, furniture, clothing, gardening goods, kid stuff or items to keep an old car running.

The better stores with the best inventory keep moving farther away. Zona Rosa in the Northland and Independence Center to the east have stores that carry some of the things I might need, but they are so far away that I mostly do without.

A trip to U.S. 169 and 135th Street to see a movie that was playing only at that Johnson County theater revealed to my partner Bette and me where a lot of the retailers had gone in the chase to follow people farther from the urban core. It reminded me of my dad’s comments about St. Louis.

Dad said people had to go 10 miles for a toothbrush. He was right then and now.

But it’s also offensive to buy anything in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature increased the regressive sales tax to make up for the foolish cuts in income taxes for some companies and the wealthy. Buying anything in Kansas supports making the poor pay more.

I’d rather shop in Missouri, and more Kansans are spending their hard-earned dollars in the Show-Me State, too.

My hope also is that the once strong department stores will land on a winning formula with consumers again. As with all things, only time and new innovations will tell.

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