History Collides With The Bottom Line

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.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.