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The Thrill of the Hunt

Published online: Nov 02, 2023 Articles, Shopping Gregg Losinski
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Before settling down in the Elysian Fields of Idaho Falls, I spent my formative years in the Chicagoland area. Back then, in the primitive era before the invention of the Internet, shopping was done the old-fashioned way, either on foot or flipping through a mail order catalog. Catalogs provided lots of options, but you never knew what you were getting.  Going from store to store allowed you to try things on.  

The only problem was that that depending on the size of your town you might not have many options, or in places like Chicago, you had too many!

Instead of scrolling on Amazon between desired items, I was dragged by my little Polish-American Grandma from store to store. Because Little Grandma didn’t drive, we took advantage of the Chicago Transit Authority, riding L trains and old electric buses from one store to another. Without fail, we always ended up buying from the first store after having wandered all over greater Chicagoland. Often, life is like shopping with Little Grandma. 

Frequently, the first thing you check out is the thing you end up going with.

Before there was Costco or Walmart or the now defunct Kmart, there was Sears, Roebuck & Company. And while Sears used to have over 35,000 stores at its most popular point, it was the catalog that kids really looked forward to. 

While we may not have had the Internet to do our shopping on, we had something that was nearly as good with the Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalog. There were other catalogs from Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney, but they never matched the Sears Catalog in sheer mass. I remember spending hours each December going page by page through the seemingly endless toy section. The Christmas Edition was almost as popular as the holiday itself, for a while they even labeled it the “Wish Book” Sometimes it is fun to just dream and not worry about how much everything costs.

One wild fact is that from 1908 until 1942, you could order a home from the Sears Catalog! These weren’t one-room Lincoln Log kits. There were nice little ranches and even mini-Mc-Mansions. They were reasonably priced and about 70,000 were shipped out. I’m sure if you hunted around the Internet, you might even find a website listing where they were all shipped. Think about how frustrating it is trying to follow instructions from IKEA to put together a nightstand and multiply that by a million for a two-story colonial! 

Nowadays, we have AutoZone and O’Reilly’s where we can run to and pick up just about whatever parts we need for our cars. Used to be that the dealers were the only ones that carried replacement parts. If you were looking to customize or repair a car, there weren’t a lot of local options.  There was, however,  a grown-up version of the Sears' Wish Book for adolescent males wanting to spiff up an old jalopy. It was a catalog from a huge custom auto parts warehouse called Warshawskys’. It had just about any replacement part you could want and just about any accessory you could imagine to make your car look boss. 

Just because you grew up doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming.

Maybe because things used to be meant to last or be repaired, shopping was a bigger deal. Going to buy a new pair of shoes was serious business. Shoes were expensive and if your foot didn’t grow before the soles wore out, they were going to be resoled rather than buy a new expensive pair of shoes. I still remember the leather-and-sweat smell of the shoe repair section at the back of the shoe stores. It wasn’t gross, it was kind of comforting. 

Sometimes, memories are the only things we have left from our childhood.

Today things are made as cheaply as possible and not meant to last, let alone be repairable. Shopping is no longer the adventure it used to be. Now it seems normal to run out to Staples to pick up a new printer every few years. Heck, the toner cartridges alone almost cost as much as a new printer. We have truly become a disposable culture. Unfortunately, we have also tossed away some of the things that helped make some of our fondest childhood memories. Scrolling on Amazon can never replace running all over Chicago with my Little Grandma to find a pair of dress shoes.

Author’s Note:  As if the internet were snooping in on the writing of this essay, a paper Amazon toy catalog came in the mail as this piece was about to be emailed to my editor.  It was a nice nod to the past but just a shadow of the old Wish Books.


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