It takes a long time to kill a great brand. But Eddie Lampert may have finally succeeded. Sears, the iconic company that was founded in 1887 and was once the largest retailer in America, is preparing to wind down, after Lampert’s last-ditch bid to buy several hundred Sears stores out of bankruptcy was rejected. If Sear does die, it will be the largest fatality yet in the retail apocalypse.
But it would be a mistake to chalk up Sears’ extinction to the shift to online shopping. Sears didn’t die of natural causes. Rather, it was exterminated by a Wall Street prodigy who thought his financial success would somehow extend to the difficult business of retailing. It didn’t. When I first met Lampert back in 2006, people were referring to him as the next Warren Buffett, because of his focus on long-term investing. Instead, he is now likely to be remembered for killing a brand once synonymous with America.
Lampert’s bid, submitted in late December, was designed to keep 425 stores open and preserve up to 50,000 jobs. But creditors apparently found it lacking. One problem: the fancy financing arrangements that Lampert has used to keep Sears afloat over the years are now the source of investigation, casting a shadow over his involvement in any new deal.
The Fortune video team put together a look at the iconic company’s 130-year history that you can view here. For the first forty years of its existence, it sold products via catalogues, starting with watches and jewelry and eventually covering the gamut, including ready-to-build houses. (I used to live in one.) It opened its first store in 1925, and became the largest retailer in the country. But it has been in steady decline since 2010.
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Around the Water Cooler
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