Can it really be gone? It brought newfangled inventions such as sewing machines and clothes washers to countryfolk. Generations of Americans remember it as the "wish book," because its well-thumbed pages helped countless children make up their Christmas lists. With its "free trial offers" and its "money-back guarantees," the book helped define the material dreams of a growing young nation.

Despite the history, Sears announced on Jan. 25 that after 107 years, the Sears catalog will cease to exist. The arrival of Wal-Mart stores in rural areas and the catalog's own heavy costs had led to recurring losses at the $3.3 billion operation. With the closure, 3,400 full-time and 16,500 part-time jobs will be lost. Yet the catalog's shutdown will bring more than just another flurry of pink slips: It represents the passing of an era in American retailing.

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