BY SEN. SAM SLOM – The announcement on February 23 that Sears will sell its flagship Ala Moana Center store, with 300,000 square feet of space, to General Growth Properties sometime in 2013 was sad news. The loss of this great retail store and its historic significance will circulate through our community—especially among those of us who actually worked in that store.
Ala Moana Center probably would not have been completed and opened when it was, in August 1959, (a week before Statehood) without Sears as a major anchor. The company took a big risk relocating there.
The wide variety of goods and support of local vendors was unprecedented in Hawaii. Sears was and remains, an important institution in Hawaii.
While I was a student at the University of Hawaii Manoa, I applied for a job at Sears as a part-time employee during the Christmas holiday in 1961. It was a job that was much sought after because of wages and working conditions and not so easily attained in those days. Applicants were interviewed, tested, and competed for a limited number of available openings.
Men wore suits and the training was vigorous, even for limited part time positions. I remember being excited at being chosen to work that Christmas.
One of the things we learned then was not to refer to the store as “Sears,” but always as Sears Roebuck and Company. Training in customer service was extensive. The good reputation of the store was important and employees were an integral part of it.
There was something Sears had in common with the U.S. Army: prospective employees were asked what department they would like to work in, and usually were given something completely opposite.
A classmate and good friend of mine at the time, who also applied, put on his application, his first choice was appliances, but anything was preferable to men’s suits. You guessed it, he wound up in men’s suits. I had experience (from Mainland high school) in men’s suits but got lucky and was assigned to small appliances (radios, phonographs—remember them? and the like.)
I say lucky because there was a great deal of action in appliances around the holidays and I inadvertently learned I was credited with commissions. I was a pretty good salesman and my first check was five times that of my friend. (Eventually, I did not get commission as a part-timer but it was good while it lasted!).
I met many good people from management, to employees, during my tenure at Sears. I learned a great deal about retailing as well.
My fortunes continued as I was re-hired part-time the next year in hardware and later on, in suits.
In hardware, I learned a lot about tools and home improvement and that I should not be trusted with the paint mixing machines.
The suit department was interesting because that’s where local families came to get their young men their first suit usually, and to go off to Mainland colleges. It also was the first suit for many local adult men. In downtime, everyone learnd how to “snap” their cloth tape measures to keep occupied. Restocking pants shelves after a major sale was not as pleasant.
The main thing is I remember is I loved the customers—well, most of them—and the supervisors, well, most of them, who were helpful and assisting. All this and getting paid too.
Sears will be missed. Even though there are other Sears stores in Hawaii, and new competitors, the Ala Moana Store will always be special.
Mahalo Sears, for all the many contributions you made to our community. You will be missed but never forgotten.