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A look at Sears’ historical impact on American consumers as the company files for bankruptcy

A Sears store in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Calif.
A Sears store in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo by Clay Larsen via Flickr Creative Commons

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They sold clothing and appliances. They even sold houses. But now that the company has filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 unprofitable stores, how much longer will it be selling, well, anything?

The answer to whether or not the 125-year-old company will be able to weather the storm remains unclear, but for now it intends to stay intact and functioning, simply on a smaller scale. In order for this to happen, Chairman Eddie Lampert, who stepped down as CEO upon with the filing, will need to lend the company $300 million in addition to purchasing a number of outlets.

Financial strains aside, the company has had a long, rich history with Americans. What started as a small watch company, Sears became the largest national retailer during parts of the 20th century, and provided a necessary service to residents of small and rural towns through its famed catalogue business.

We discuss the latest regarding the company’s bankruptcy, and also take a broad look at its position in retail history.  


Matthew Townsend, business reporter at Bloomberg; he tweets @matt_townsend

Mark Cohen, a former executive at Sears, who is now the director of retail studies at Columbia Business School at Columbia University; he was chief marketing officer and president of softlines at Sears Roebucks in Chicago (1998-2001), and CEO of Sears Canada (2001-2004)