Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

“Sears has everything!” The old jingle today rings quaint. The once-pre-eminent U.S. retailer now has no space at the mall.

April 12 will be the final day for the Seven Corners Sears, which had occupied the old Lord & Taylor building in Falls Church since 1998. The closure — accelerated by the coronavirus — was announced in February by the private Transformco firm.

The news stirred many memories of the Arlington Sears that stood at the heart of Clarendon from 1942 to 1993. After years as the Arlington Education Center at N. Edgewood St. and Wilson Blvd., that old building is today under renovation to be Market Common Clarendon. Sears’ former garden center is now Whole Foods.

News clippings on this Sears’ opening during World War II were recently unearthed by those bird-dogs on Facebook’s “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.” The Sears group manager of the D.C. area advertised that he was looking to hire full-and-part-time sales people in hardware, draperies, rugs, paint, wallpaper, building materials and “ready to wear.”

Arlingtonians of all walks responded, as the nostalgia buffs recently proved. Sue Meeder’s mother worked there in “the ‘50s and early ‘60s,” she posted. “She was a cashier upstairs in the main offices.” Sydney Simmonds “worked there before I went into the Army, setting up and adjusting TVs and stereos on the top floor.”

Judy Munden “worked at that Sears in the late ‘70s for almost three years. Mom and Dad used my employee discount all the time. Dad with his tools and my mom with her appliances.”

Gloria Moren told me her uncle David Oddenino worked the Clarendon Sears as a jeweler/salesperson. “I would take my broken watches to him. After many years in the jewelry department, he sold appliances downstairs.”

George Dodge recalled that in the early ‘70s that Sears “was virtually the only place remaining open after 6 p.m. for department store merchandise.” It also maintained “an automotive area for oil changes (pre-Jiffy Lube).”
David Ruiz remembered “walking to and from Sears with my mom from Lee Garden apartments. Everything was calm during [the ‘80s]; we didn’t feel any fear.”

Even before Sears bricks-and-mortar emporiums began to shutter, the national company dating to 1893 had become for some an object of derision. A bad driver in the ‘60s might hear a shout, “Where’d you get your license, Sears?” But my household in recent years has continued to rely on Sears for kitchen appliances and services such as duct and carpet cleaning.
My personal memories of the Clarendon branch trace to the musical instruments section. In particular, the Sears Silvertone twin-12 amplifier provided reverb and tremolo to my well-intentioned electric guitar.

When I was an 11-year-old, that was my idea of Sears having everything.

County leaders, Facebook-casting April 3 from their homes and private offices, bravely pulled off their virtual town meeting to highlight the feats of improvisation Arlington has been plunged into to fight the coronavirus.

Chair Libby Garvey and county manager Mark Schwartz assured listeners that specialists and regional authorities are maintaining mutual consultation. I was most awed by the reports from Arlington Public Schools, whose buildings are closed, but whose team provided, at five drop-off schools, a week’s worth of “grab and go” meals to needy students’ families designed to cover the April 6-10 spring break. More coming.

Kudos to Arlington Public Libraries for running a supply donation center and showcasing citizen online art reflecting the crisis.

Sen. Kaine on April 7 led a Q&A with statewide chambers of commerce (including Arlington president Kate Bates), whose leader asserted that “business will lead us through this crisis.” Kaine lamented that the United States is “six-eight weeks behind where it should have been” in responding.
In the citizens milieu, residents of Maywood neighborhood were cheering each other nightly at 6:00 with porch-front singalongs of such standbys as “Lean on Me.” The ritual ended, however, with Gov. Northam’s March 30 stay-at-home order.