“There’s always parking at Sears.”
As marketing slogans go, that version probably wouldn’t do much to attract customers. It would, however, be mostly accurate, and not just for the ailing retailer founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in the late 19th century.
Brick-and-mortar department stores like Sears are feeling the effects of economic upheaval just as intensely as their more widely lamented manufacturing counterparts. For the fiscal year ended in January, Sears Holding Corp. reported an operating loss of nearly $2 billion.
As recently as 2011, Sears (and its Kmart unit) had more than 3,500 stores; after the latest round of closings scheduled for early 2017, only about 1,500 will remain. Since 2005, more than 100,000 Sears employees have lost their jobs.
Other large department stores are in similar trouble.
Macy’s will close about 14% of its 728 stores this year and J.C. Penney will shutter 13% of its 1,014 locations. Writing in Forbes, retail analyst Walter Loeb predicted that 21 retailers alone will close almost 3,600 physical outlets in 2017 at a cost of about 50,000 jobs.
We don’t hear much about lost retail employment. Perhaps that’s because the lack of an obvious scapegoat has denied service sector workers a political champion. Those workers also tend to be less male and less white and thus have less political power. You might also speculate that the creative destruction that is an inherent (if painful) component of free-market capitalism is for whatever reason better understood in retail than in pockets of industrial America.
Yet many retail jobs also are in cities with diverse economies that could allow for sideways movement within the labor market. Whether due to political failure or not, that…