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January 21, 2012

Jim Bailey: Another Anderson institution getting ready to close its doors

Older Andersonians will remember that the building at the corner of 12th and Main streets, since reconstructed, wasn’t always the Anderson Public Library. It was once the site of Sears Roebuck & Co.

Once an anchor of downtown Anderson commerce, Sears abandoned the city core a few decades ago when it forsook its three-story building for the lure of a location in the Mounds Mall being vacated by Montgomery Ward, an original Mall anchor undergoing corporate downsizing.

The day of national department stores selling everything from clothes to tools to furniture to appliances both in retail outlets and mail-order catalogs was undergoing a metamorphosis as competition from big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Lowe’s proliferated.

At the time of its move, Sears found it advantageous to switch from a three-story downtown location, where parking was at a premium, to a mall site with acres of free parking and where the retailer could be more selective in meeting the needs and tastes of a public whose shopping patterns were changing.

Economic tides continued to ebb and flow. Of late they increasingly have ebbed. Meanwhile, retailers such as Sears have had to redefine their role, and one result was a merger with another strapped retailer, Kmart. Both have cut back on their offerings and cast their lot with new specialties.

Still, Sears had lines that continued to be popular with the buying public, one of which was Craftsman Tools.

But foot traffic in the Mounds Mall has declined over the years as the commercial center of Anderson crept south on Scatterfield toward the Hoosier Park vicinity. And nationally, the parent company of Sears and Kmart has been keeping an eye on dwindling profit margins in an economy that has been in neutral for too many long months.

The result was the announcement of the closing of more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores nationwide. Anderson’s lone remaining Kmart survived; Sears did not.

Montgomery Ward, of course, was the first of the big three department-store giants to call it a day in Anderson. A few years ago J.C. Penney joined the exodus, though maintaining a catalog outlet in Anderson until last year. Now Sears has bailed.

All three originally were situated in the central part of Anderson in the days when downtown was downtown. Ward, originally on Meridian between 13th and 14th streets, was in the first wave of Mounds Mall tenants, and Penney followed a few years later. Sears’ move when Ward closed up seemed like a logical move at the time. But things were changing.

Ward’s original building still stands. The library took over for Sears. The downtown Penney’s was demolished for a parking garage.

As Anderson rediscovers itself, more changes undoubtedly will characterize the Anderson scene. But as economic climates continue to change, what the future holds may not be predictable for some time to come.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey  

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