Sad Day, The Great Sears Roebuck Gone

Sears and Montgomery Wards or Monkey Wards as it was known, were the two stores of choice in the Hudson Valley before malls on Route 9 changed everything, well now they’ll both be nothing but a memory. No reference will be made of the common use of the Sears Catalog.

The orders poured in from everywhere — 105,000 a day at one point — so much so that the company became an economic force. It could make or break suppliers by promoting their products. It could dictate terms on manufacturing. Its headquarters city boomed as this tech-driven retailer built huge warehouses and factories and attracted other businesses and rivals. State and local governments complained that the company was harming small-town retailers.

That was Sears, Roebuck & Company in the early 20th century in Chicago. But at various times in the history of retailing you could apply like descriptions of retail might to Walmart, Kmart, Safeway, A.&P., and F.W. Woolworth, whose Downtown Manhattan headquarters building was christened the “Cathedral of Commerce” when it opened in 1913. Today the Woolworth Building is a luxury condo whose young residents are probably unaware of the extraordinary entrepreneur who built it.

Which is to say that becoming the nation’s leading retailer does not guarantee immortality, at least not beyond architecture. Sears, once America’s dominant retailer, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after 132 years in business.

Sears became the Amazon of its day because its co-founder Richard Warren Sears harnessed two great networks to serve his enterprise — the railroads and the United States Postal Service. When the Postal Service commenced rural free delivery in 1896 (the “last mile” in today’s jargon) every homestead in America became within reach.

And Richard Sears reached them. He used his genius for advertising and promotion to put a catalog in the hands of 20 million Americans in 1900, when the population was 76 million. The Wish Book or Big Book or Dream Book, as the catalog was variously called, could run a staggering 1,500 pages and offer more than 100,000 items. And when one of his pants suppliers, the manufacturing wizard Julius Rosenwald, became his partner, in 1886, Sears was on the way to becoming a vertically integrated juggernaut. Whether you needed a cream separator or a catcher’s mitt, a plow or a dress, or an entire house, Sears had it. “No matter where you go or how long you look, you’ll not find values approaching those this book presents,” the spring 1922 catalog declared.

Sears would carve up the catalog landscape with a local rival, Montgomery Ward. Remember it? Probably not. The e-sales promotion company Groupon, itself once mighty and now clinging to life, occupies part of Ward’s former headquarters in Chicago. Sears, Montgomery Ward and another Midwestern-born general merchandise retailer, J.C. Penney, dominated postwar American retailing, controlling 43 percent of department store sales by 1975. But even by then, Sears was beginning to falter under waves of new competition.

The company was not alone. A.&P., which introduced the first cut-rate grocery store in 1912, was also sliding into a long decline that would last through decades of ownership and management changes. Great A.&P. went through the final checkout lane in 2016 following its second bankruptcy. (Or was that the third?) A.&P. once operated 15,819 stores and ran the world’s largest food packaging plant, in Horseheads, N.Y. The company was so powerful that in 1949 trustbusters tried to slice it into seven independent companies. Even before that, states passed “chain laws” that included minimum markups, so small stores couldn’t be undermined by the loss leaders that A.&P. would offer to attract shoppers. A.&P., a vicious competitor, buried local retailers anyway.

By the inflation-racked 1970s, though, A.&P. was struggling against nimbler chains such as Safeway, which became the country’s top grocer, and Kroger, as well as new models of retailing such as big-box stores. Walmart’s eventual move into groceries would help seal A.&P.’s fate, and, at the same time, make the Arkansas company the nation’s top retailer, where it remains. For now.

A.&P. would later show some dubious creativity when in the early 1980smanagement scrapped and replaced the “overfunded” pension plan, plundering it for operating capital. This piece of sliminess was copied all over corporate America, signaling the end of the pension plans that so many workers depended on for retirement income.

In its earlier days, with strong leaders such as Robert E. Wood, Sears was able to negotiate huge shifts in the economic and demographic landscape. By 1925, more Americans were living in the cities than in rural areas. Sears followed them by opening retail stores. The postwar boom would give rise to the suburban shopping mall, and Sears could easily finance and grab what were then (but not necessarily now) the best locations across the country.

By the mid-1980s, after a restructuring, the company briefly blossomed anew, in part by becoming a more full-blown conglomerate that owned Allstate Insurance and the Dean Witter brokerage. Sears also tried to crack the credit card market with its Discover card. The rationale was that Americans trusted Sears on the spending side of family finance, so why wouldn’t they do the same on the savings side? The proposal was framed this way: “Would you buy stocks where you buy socks?” Answer: Not really.

High up in the Sears Tower, management couldn’t see that the retail landscape was changing. Sears couldn’t compete effectively with Walmart and the growth of big box merchandisers such as Toys “R” Us. But more important, the company could not summon the vision to anticipate the internet. By 1993, Sears had closed its national network of warehouses and exited the catalog business — which is basically e-retailing without the “e.” Amazon shipped its first book in 1995.

The Cost to Transform Retailing
Sears, the Original Everything Store, Files for Bankruptcy

Which brings us to Eddie Lampert, the chief executive of ESL Investments, who bought Sears in 2005 figuring, wrongly, that he could reinvigorate it. Mr. Lampert recently blamed Sears’ retirees for some of the company’s problems, complaining that paying them the money they were owed was holding the company back. He’s spent a decade shrinking Sears (and Kmart, which is part of the parent company, Sears Holdings) and then blamed the economy, the weather, Walmart, Amazon and everything else when his plan foundered. Saddled with debt it can’t afford, Sears is filing for Chapter 11 to keep itself afloat through the Christmas holidays. No one wants to buy into Mr. Lampert’s latest restructuring plan, which would sell ESL control of some of Sears’ best remaining assets, including the Kenmore appliance brand.

Amazon, the world’s leading e-tailer, is now one of the biggest clients of the . Postal Service. As Sears did in 1925, Amazon has moved into brick-and-mortar retail, buying Whole Foods and opening its own stores as it tries to close the store gap with Walmart. And the company has gone well beyond any retailer in terms of diversification, including web and cloud hosting, original content, fashion, hardware, even an airline fleet. Amazon certainly has the government’s attention, or at least the president’s, and its recent announcement of a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all United States employees will stave off some of the withering criticism about its employment practices. Amazon’s goal is to be less disliked than Walmart, apparently.

Certainly, Amazon looks unassailable in its current form. So did every retailer that became the biggest dog on retail’s porch. They were all innovative. They all pushed the boundaries on pricing, sourcing, marketing, regulation, employment, expansion and tax breaks. They all ultimately lost their way. Sears is the latest chapter in that story. And probably not the last.

 

Respect the Office of the Presidency

The President is speaking at the Naval Academy commencement Friday. There are those who do not agree with President Trump but who will respect him because of the office he holds. The below from the Washington Post today:

washington post Trump article

Decades later, officers remember their commissioning. One Marine I know recalled whole passages he heard from the speech at his graduation in 1993, 25 years ago. That year, John McCain came to speak and, as they say, he killed it.

McCain told them, “As ensigns and second lieutenants, the character of the young sailors and Marines entrusted to your care will be formed in large part by their appreciation of your character. You are where leadership begins. You are the models who stand just past the sergeants and chiefs, and those under your command will derive from your behavior the direction of their own lives. Their firm respect for you, on which their lives and our security will depend, will be determined by how faithfully you keep, on duty and off, the code you learned here.” McCain was telling them something they had learned every day for four years. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Martin E. Dempsey tweeted a similar message just last week: “Character matters. Always. In everything. Period.”

Blackstone of the Death Squad Returns

No one around the farm can exactly remember when or how Blackstone came to the barn. He is a big black and white cat, very gentle, fixed and a traveling man. He disappeared about 3 or 4 years ago and I had found he had taken up residence down at Rosy Andrews, aged 92.  The Andrews farm used to milk 52 cows a day when her brother Jim was a young man but they stopped farming in the 1960s. Recently Rosy moved to the Fountains an assisted living facility about 5 miles away and Blackstone was left without someone to take care of him.

I went down to the farm and found him waiting on the porch for Rosy, so I picked him up and brought him home. He and Gerlinda started hissing at each other but they seem to have signed a non aggression pact and Blackstone a superb mouser is back at work, eating and prowling like he used to.

There are no guarantees he’ll stick  around but we haven’t seen the last of Blackstone, that I can assure you.

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They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

96-Year-Old Secretary Quietly Amasses Fortune, Then Donates $8.2 Million

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Sylvia Bloom, a legal secretary from Brooklyn, worked for the same law firm for 67 years while quietly amassing a fortune. In her will, she left more than $8 million for college scholarships.

Even by the dizzying standards of New York City philanthropy, a recent $6.24 million donation to the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side was a whopper — the largest single gift from an individual to the social service group in its 125-year history.

It was not donated by some billionaire benefactor, but by a frugal legal secretary from Brooklyn who toiled for the same law firm for 67 years until she retired at age 96 and died not long afterward in 2016.

Her name was Sylvia Bloom and even her closest friends and relatives had no idea she had amassed a fortune over the decades. She did this by shrewdly observing the investments made by the lawyers she served.

“She was a secretary in an era when they ran their boss’s lives, including their personal investments,” recalled her niece Jane Lockshin. “So when the boss would buy a stock, she would make the purchase for him, and then buy the same stock for herself, but in a smaller amount because she was on a secretary’s salary.”

Since Ms. Bloom never talked about this, even to those closest to her, the fact that she had carefully cultivated more than $9 million among three brokerage houses and 11 banks, only emerged at the end of her life — “an oh my God moment,” said Ms. Lockshin, the executor of Ms. Bloom’s estate.

“I realized she had millions and she had never mentioned a word,” recalled Ms. Lockshin. “I don’t think she thought it was anybody’s business but her own.”

Ms. Bloom joins the ranks of unassuming and magnanimous millionaires next door, who have died with fortunes far larger than their lifestyles ever suggested. Like Ms. Bloom, Leonard Gigowski, a shopkeeper from New Berlin, Wis., who died in 2015, left his $13 million fortune to a scholarship fund. Grace Groner, who gave $7 million to charity upon her death, was also a child of the Great Depression who shopped at thrift stores and chose to walk not drive.

“She was certainly not a spendthrift,” Ms. Lockshin added. “She didn’t have any minks.”

Ms. Bloom’s will allowed for some money to be left to relatives and friends, but directed that the bulk of the fortune go toward scholarships of Ms. Lockshin’s choice for needy students.

Ms. Lockshin, the longstanding treasurer of the settlement’s board, called the group’s executive director, David Garza, and asked him if he was sitting down.

“We were all agape, just blown away,” recalled Mr. Garza, who said the money would endow the settlement’s Expanded Horizons College Success Program, which helps disadvantaged students prepare for and complete college. The gift, made in February, was publicly disclosed last week.

While her aunt’s wealth was a surprise, her quiet plan to help students was not, Ms. Lockshin said.

Ms. Bloom, who never had children of her own, was born to eastern European immigrants and grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. She attended public schools, including Hunter College where she completed her degree at night while working days to make ends meet.

In 1947 she joined a fledgling Wall Street law firm as one of its first employees. Over her 67 years with the firm, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, it grew to its current size, with more than 1,200 lawyers, as well as hundreds of staff members, of which Ms. Bloom was the longest tenured, said Paul Hyams, a human resources executive for the firm who became good friends with Ms. Bloom over his 35 years working there.

Ms. Bloom’s husband, Raymond Margolies, who died in 2002, was a city firefighter who retired and became a city schoolteacher with a pharmacist career on the side, relatives said. Even when she married, Ms. Bloom kept her given name, which was indicative of her independent nature, said a cousin, Flora Mogul Bornstein, 72.

Nearly all the money was in Ms. Bloom’s name alone, Ms. Lokshin said, adding that it was “very possible” that even Mr. Margolies did not know the size of his wife’s fortune.

The couple lived modestly in a rent-controlled apartment, though “she could have lived on Park Avenue if she wanted to,” Mr. Hyams said.

Ms. Bloom was known for always taking the subway to work, even on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, not far from the firm’s offices.

That day, Ms. Bloom, at 84, fled north and took refuge in a building before walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and taking a city bus — not a cab — home.

Just before she retired, Mr. Hyams said he saw the 96-year-old Ms. Bloom trudging out of the subway and headed to work in the middle of a fierce snowstorm.

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Sylvia Bloom and her husband, Raymond Margolies, years ago.

“I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she said, ‘Why, where should I be?’” he recalled.

After retiring, Ms. Bloom agreed to move to a senior residence mainly because “she wanted to find a good bridge game,” said Ms. Bornstein, a retired social worker.

To scout them out, and finally to move into one on the Upper West Side, she insisted on taking the subway, Ms. Bornstein said.

Mr. Hyams said Ms. Bloom regretted never going to law school.

Still, he said, he was “completely astounded” to learn of her wealth after her death.

“She never talked money and she didn’t live the high life,” he said. “She wasn’t showy and didn’t want to call attention to herself.

A lover of chocolate but not lavish gifts, she only would accept his gifts of special chocolate in small quantities.

Get Ready Here They Come

According to the CDC this year will be the worst ever for tics and mosquitos. Its not all bad news for me as the big barn at the bottom of the road is usually populated for the summer by a little brown bat population. I forget how many mosquitos they can eat on a summer evening but 50,000 sticks in my mind.

As for tics there is little you can do about them other than taking a shower, checking yourself regularly and if what I have read is correct, you can remove the tic within 24 hours to prevent infection.

Tics soon

 

Blizzards

We had a real Northeaster a foot of wet snow, trees down, and power out for two days, but the below was before snow plows, generators and as a friend used to say “before the spine had gone out of the American working man!”

The Great Blizzard of 1888 Hits the Northeast:
March 11–14, 1888

Memorable Moments in Winter Olympics History

During the night of March 11–12, 1888, heavy rain falling across the northeastern United States turned into snow, heralding the start of a blizzard that would kill hundreds of people and cut off major hubs like New York City from the rest of the country for days.4.

Great Blizzard of 1888The weather had been warm and mild leading up to the blizzard, but a cold, snowy storm moving in from the Great Lakes region collided with a warm, wet storm moving up from the south, creating a blizzard that not only dumped 20–60 inches of snow but was also accompanied by hurricane-force winds and below-freezing temperatures.

The blizzard was at its worst on the 12th and 13th. The wind blew so hard that snow accumulated in drifts sometimes dozens of feet high. Trains were unable to run for days, telegraph lines were knocked down across the northeast, and hundreds of boats along the coast were sunk or beached. Due to the cold temperatures and whiteout conditions, people froze to death in the streets and livestock died in the fields.

On the 13th, while New York City was still in the grips of the blizzard, the New York Tribunedescribed the previous day of the storm:

“The forcible if not elegant vocabulary of pugilism supplied the phrases which will, perhaps, best reveal to the popular imagination the effect of the storm that visited New York yesterday. New York was simply ‘knocked out,’ ‘paralyzed,’ and reduced to a condition of suspended animation. Traffic was practically stopped, and business abandoned. […] Chaos reigned, and the proud, boastful metropolis was reduced to the condition of a primitive settlement.”

The storm had mostly dissipated by the 14th, but the cleanup was only beginning. Mountains of snow had to be cleared from the roads and train tracks, communications lines had to be repaired, and debris blown around during the storm had to be removed. To make matters worse, when the weather warmed back up, flooding from the snowmelt occurred in some places.

The consequences of the storm made a big impression on local officials, and as a result, major cities like New York began moving their trains and communication lines underground.

Do you have any family stories about the Great Blizzard of 1888? Share them with us! Or find more articles about the storm on Newspapers.com.

First Post 2018

Guns…. I have posted about this before but after the horrendous shooting in Parkland Florida, two things happened that have to be noted.

1- Rush Limbaugh was on Chris Wallace Sunday news show and said he thought the answer to the problem was allowing canceled weapons to be carried in the schools. To me the extraordinary thing was that chris Wallace did not even push back on this absurd statement.

Senator Langford from Oklahoma  was on another Sunday new show and responded to a question about AR 15s when asked whether they were necessary for hunting. He said some of his friends use them for hunting.

Now as I have said before I own guns and believe a citizen should have the right to own firearms. However I also agree with Ronald Reagan who said he believed in the right to own guns but not machine guns… read semi automatic weapons.

There goes my rating with the NRA!

Autumn in Clove Valley

The leaves are turning now, almost two weeks late and the colors while bright are not the usual flaming orange red and yellow.

But, it was a spectacular year for peaches and apples, more than any in my memory. We were loaded down with peaches until early September and the last of the apples were picked yesterday.

I made enough apple sauce for most of the winter and froze about 25 containers as well as three gallons of cider.

Pam over in Millbrook gave me the recipe easy and perfect, core em, leave peels on add lemon juice and cinnamon, cook em slow and then mush em and there you are, no sugar or other things and it comes out perfect. And I can’t boil water!

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