How Sears Industrialized, Suburbanized, and Fractured the American Economy

The Iconic Retail Giant Turned Thrift into Profit, But Couldn’t Keep Pace with Modern Consumer Culture

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 …

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Bon Voyage, Sport Chalet

Southern California's Good-Natured Sports Chain Will Be Missed, Meat Locker Dive Shop and All

When news broke that the Sport Chalet chain of stores was closing, it might have sounded to you like just another failure in a retail sector—sporting goods—that has seen more …

Why the Supermarket Was Born in Los Angeles

The City Has Long Been a Diverse Laboratory Where Retailers Study Consumer Behavior

In 1926, Los Angeles grocer George Ralphs opened the first supermarket. His property diverted from many of standards of the time, offering off-street parking, a selection of fresh meats and …

Who in the World Named My Cashmere Socks?

Behind Every Witty, Punning, Trademarked Name, Somebody Like Me Worked to Make You Smile—and Buy a Product

When I tell people at cocktail parties what I do, they’re always curious. “You’re a namer-of-things? That sounds like fun. Tell me more,” they say, seemingly surprised that it’s an …

What the Casino Knows

What Stays in Vegas

The biggest violator of Americans’ privacy may not be the government but corporations. Every time we use rewards cards to ring up bonuses at the supermarket cash register or book …

Why Do We Love Being Frequent Flyers, Buyers, Shoppers, and Eaters?

In Exchange for Our Data, Customer Loyalty Programs Give Us Discounts—and a Sense of Intimacy

I am having a hard time being loyal to all my loyalty programs. I have frequent flyer/buyer/rider/sleeper/eater/drinker cards with two airlines, three hotel chains, a grocery store, two booksellers, one …