A postcard featuring the Sears & Roebuck store in downtown Bath. Courtesy / Maine Memory Network

It seems that the end of an era is here.  Gone are the days when Sears was the best department store around.  Long gone is the Christmas catalog, full of magical toys that I could only circle and dream about.  The Craftsman tool brand, with its wonderful warranty, has been sold off.  The Sears store in Brunswick is closing its doors forever, and the going-out-of-business sale is clogging a parking lot that hasn’t been full in years. It’s a sad ending for a store that was founded in Bath in 1941.

Business in Bath was improving with the Great Depression finally coming to an end.  The old City Hall was demolished to make room for a new W. T. Grant department store.

According to visitbath.com, a downtown fire in 1937 led to the construction of a new movie theater and Bath’s first supermarket, the A&P.  Bath became home to several national chain stores, including Sears & Roebuck, F. W. Woolworth, J. J. Newberry’s, First National Foods, and Grants.  There were also a couple of local department stores, including Senter’s, and many clothing stores and other businesses.  Sears was at the corner of Washington and Center Streets, and used an old building at the former Percy and Small Shipyard as a warehouse.

Sears was an old company when they opened the Bath store. According to History.com, Richard W. Sears was a railroad agent in 1886 when he got the chance to buy a shipment of watches that a local jeweler refused to sign for.  He started a watch company, and a newspaper ad brought in a watchmaker named Alvah C. Roebuck.  They soon expanded into general merchandise, and found a huge market in rural America, where most people did not have access to department stores.  A farmer could have almost any product imaginable shipped to his door using the 500-page Sears catalog (often read, and recycled, in the outhouse.)  Between 1908 and 1940, you could even order a pre-fab house from Sears and Roebuck, which would arrive in pieces on a train.

Roebuck, sadly, sold his interest in the business for $20,000 and eventually went broke.  I had heard that he wound up back at Sears afterward, working as a janitor.  But it seems that he actually served as the company historian and did appearances at new store openings.

By the late 1950s and into the 1960s, there was a government-funded movement toward urban renewal.  Old buildings across the country were being demolished to make way for new, modern structures. Portland lost its beautiful old Gothic train station during the Urban Renewal movement, and Brunswick lost its city hall.

Much of Bath’s downtown was supposed to be torn down and turned into an open-air style shopping mall.  The businesses wanted it done, but the residents balked at the destruction of history. Urban Renewal was voted down in Bath, which saved our magnificent old downtown for future generations. We are all glad of it now, but it was a financial disaster at the time. All of the big department stores left Bath, with most moving to Brunswick. Grants relocated to Main Street,  Brunswick, eventually becoming Grand City. And Sears moved to the new shopping mall at Cook’s Corner.

All of this was before my time, and I remember Sears Brunswick as the most magnificent of stores.  It was far superior to Mammoth Mart, Ames, or Zayre.  But many companies have had a difficult time surviving the modern onslaught of Walmart and Amazon.  The old store is soon to be another fading memory.  Au revoir.

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