The year was 2004. Kmart and Sears were both ailing.
Kmart announced plans to buy Sears, Roebuck and Co. for $11 billion. The new union would be Sears Holdings, the No. 3 retailer in the U.S. behind Walmart and Target.
For the city of Columbus, it was the beginning of the end for one of the stores. Columbus had both — a Big Kmart on Highway 45 North and a Sears in Leigh Mall practically within walking distance.
Many will recall that Big Kmart, at the time, was indeed big but without much substance, and Sears had a niche in offering Craftsman tools and the No. 1 brand in large home appliances though it struggled in its soft lines.
In the transition, product lines blurred.
The Kenmore brand suddenly became available at Kmart. Over the years, Sears, a bit higher end, responded to its soft-lines woes by purchasing Lands’ End and Apostrophe clothing lines. The plan was for those, too, to find their way to Kmart in the merger.
Kmart soft lines at Sears and vice versa and Sears hard lines at Kmart. Hundreds of Kmarts were to be converted to Sears stores.
Then, CNN Money quoted Kmart Chairman Edward Lampert: “We don’t want two separate cultures but to blend it into one great culture.”
But what becomes of one culture with two different stores with different names just a mile away from each other? Plus, at Kmart, you can buy groceries, too. Columbus’ Sears was doomed from the “I dos.”
So eight years later, it’s not a shock to see it idling dozens of workers any day now. Even with a 20/20 look in the rear-view, it doesn’t make the loss easier to bear.
When the business shuts its doors, the area loses millions of dollars in taxes. And, as we did when Omnova announced its manufacturing jobs would be cut, we mourn for the workers — college students working part time, longtime salesmen supporting their families, managers who’ve climbed the corporate ladder. The stories of how — and if — they recoup will be just as varied.
City officials have said prospects are looking at the 41,000-square-foot space Sears has occupied since the mall opened in ’73. A new tenant moving in quickly will be a relief for the tax base, but it won’t bring much comfort to those losing their jobs.
And for the rest of us, it will be sad to see this American icon disappear from the local landscape.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.