Looking back: Remembering the Sears of my childhood

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Sears after it closed inside Alderwood Mall. (Photo by Betty Lou Gaeng)

A few days ago, I walked down to Alderwood Mall and took a picture of the last vestige of Lynnwood’s former Sears store. Yes, it is closed now, and a lot of the history of our community is gone.

A few months ago, when I heard that our Sears store would be closing and the company would be leaving us, the announcement left a little hole in my heart. During my childhood we called it Sears, Roebuck & Co. and we did our shopping from the company’s fascinating catalogs—the Books of Wishes. The Sears Christmas catalog was a treat we anticipated for weeks. Those catalogs were our connection not only to the fashion world, but also to the toys we only dreamed of. Even though the catalog shopping I remember was years ago, just knowing that the Sears name was still here was comforting—a reminder of a different time—the time of my youth.

In 1933, the first grade at Alderwood Manor Grade School—the author is seventh from the left in the middle row—wearing a store-bought sweater from Sears, Roebuck & Co. She notes that not only is Sears gone, but so is the school and most of her classmates.

It was the 1930s and there were very few families who didn’t feel the hardships of the Great Depression. Here in the countryside of what was once Alderwood Manor, we were miles from the stores of the big cities, but we had our catalogs from Sears, Roebuck and also Montgomery Ward.

As my brothers and I would pore through the many pages showing breathtaking items, we knew that most of what we saw was way beyond reach for us—but we dreamed. When our parents did send in a catalog order, we watched the mail until finally the magical package arrived, and then we looked on with anticipation as it was opened. Usually, there was a little something for each of us.

My first store-bought dress came from Sears. My mother made all my clothes, and she was an excellent seamstress, but still most of the material for those dresses came from flour sacks. The flour company printed designs (usually flowers) on the material, just for that useful purpose—still it was not very exciting that my dresses had once been sacks that held flour.  For me, a store-bought dress ordered from the Sears catalog became a special treat in a world of make-do.

With all the shopping malls and stores we have today, it is probably hard for young people to understand the deprivations we experienced living in the country 80 years ago. It was a time of little money, but a lot of dreams—and the magical catalogs from Sears were a major part of those childhood dreams.

For me, it is sad to realize that not only are the Sears catalogs of my youth gone, but Alderwood Mall and the city of Lynnwood will now be left without the Sears name as even a remembrance of those long-ago days. I was lucky to get a picture of the store as seen from inside the mall before every trace of it was gone. I hear the tools and the appliances will now be sold by others; however, it won’t be the same. Another one of our town’s landmarks is gone.

Betty Lou Gaeng

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County.

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