Saying Good Bye to Sears
Journeys into Hackensack
At one time Hackensack was a hub of the area for shopping, and entertainment. Back in those days, those seeking a day in town had two options: Go to Manhattan or the local option, Hackensack.
A symbol for that era of Hackensack at its height was the opening in 1932 of what at the time was Bergen County’s largest department store.
Today a sign is hanging advising us that Sears in Hackensack is closing.
Sears Roebuck & Co. was one of the commercial anchors of Main Street, along with the likes of Arnold Constable and Franklin Simon.
That Sears was in Hackensack made Hackensack a destination. A day in town might include a lunch, a movie and shopping in those large stores as well as the multitude of Mom and Pop businesses that lined both sides of a thriving Main Street for blocks.
The Sears story was an American story.
As an article about Sears in the Smithsonian stated:
“The lifetime of Sears has spanned and embodied the rise of modern American consumer culture. The 130-year-old mass merchandiser that was once the largest retailer in the United States is part of the fabric of American society.
From its start as a 19th-century mail-order firm, to its heyday on Main Street and in suburban malls, and from its late 20th-century reorientation toward credit and financial products to its attempted return to its original retail identity, Sears has mirrored the ups and downs of the American economy. It was a distribution arm of industrial America. It drove the suburbanizing wedge of postwar shopping malls. It helped atomize the industrial economy through manufacturer outsourcing in the 1970s and 1980s. It played a key role in the diffusion of mass consumer culture and commercial values. For better and for worse, Sears is a symbol of American capitalism”.
In Hackensack , Sears was an important presence in the DNA of the place – as much as the People’s Trust building, the Fox and Oritani Theaters or the Red Lion Inn.
It was also significant for its architecture – the art deco building was one of many built by Sears at that time – a signature that would distinguish Sears as it reinvented itself into the forerunner of what decades later would come to be known as “Big Box Stores”. Its neon sign was a beacon to Hackensack and beyond. An architectural magazine reporting on a similar period building in Chicago wrote in a way that could have applied to Hackensack:
“Art Deco detailing could be seen on the granite of the building’s exterior. The inside had escalators between the floors, was fully air conditioned and artificially lit, and offered over 48,000 different products. At the time, the Chicago Sunday Tribune called it: “The first application of modern functional design to department store architecture.”
This attention to detail was part of the appeal of Sears. It spoke to the emerging masses, from its expansion of stores from the 1920’s-60’s or its catalogue that brought the store to those who were too far from places like Hackensack.
Along with the Holy Trinity Church, the Sears building stood stoically and gracefully at the north end of Hackensack’s commercial district, its presence calming during a prolonged period of decline for Main Street starting in the late 1960’s.
The passing of this business would be significant at any moment given this role in our community and in our nation. But this closing is made even more ironic as it comes at a moment time when construction cranes are so visible in the city’s skyline –a symbol that perhaps finally Hackensack might be about to finally turn the corner and start to realize the promise of a new and better day that had for so long trumpted yet unrealized.
A new time is coming to Hackensack. Unfortunately, another iconic symbol that sustained the city for so long will not be there when the rewards for this patience and grit are finally reaped. As news of the Sears closing came through I could not help but think how it was one of the last from an era that included the likes of Womrath’s, Cowan’s, Kates, Pfeifer’s, Famous Deli, Prozy’s, Tfank, Woolworth, Grants, Lampstons and more.
One hopes that the years of community service by Sears and its building will be respected by those who choose what comes next for the iconic and architecturally significant structure. It was a department store whose best time may have long passed. But for a long time it was an integral part of our local landscape.
Yes, it will be missed. But it won’t be forgotten.