For the first time in more than 60 years the Sears name will cease to be associated with Bryan this summer, following a relatively storied history.
But the current location will remain under ownership of Phil Walsh and become an independently owned operation.
“We have plans for a retail establishment,” said Walsh. “I would welcome anyone who is interested in what we’re doing to call the store. We appreciate all the business that has been coming to Sears over the years. On what’s to come, stay tuned.”
Walsh said the last day for the store’s Sears association will be on July 19, when renovations will begin at the 1429 W. High St. store.
“We’ll be open softly during the entire renovation period,” he said. “Products will be changed, but people will like the changes.”
Further details of the transition were not made available at this juncture due to contract concerns.
Sears’ presence in Bryan predates the late 1950s when the catalogue store was located at 116 N. Main St., the current location of Mary Stoller Realty & Auction, as a place where items ordered in the company’s famous catalogs were shipped for pick-up.
From 1962 to 1995, the store was located across from the library in Bryan. A transition then made the Bryan store significant to the Sears name, as it was chosen to be the first dealer-owned model store in the U.S., according to former owner David Brown.
Prior to owning the store, Brown, who already oversaw stores in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, was chosen to oversee the transition. As part of the change, a 10,000-square-foot facility was built at 1429 W. High St., the current site of the store.
“It was one of the better profitable (stores). The volume of sales was really high. And, they had me,” said Brown of why Bryan was chosen. “Bryan was the center of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, so I could work with those three states.
“Catalogue stores were basically done. You didn’t need it anymore because your customers that wanted to place an order had the catalogs. They could have it shipped to their home.
“By it being a company store,” Brown said, “we could do anything we wanted as far as changing the display, the merchandise. We had the freedom of deciding what merchandise we had in the back room.”
Bryan became a template for the new model at the company. And before long, more than 900 dealer-owned stores popped up across the country.
“They copied off of what we did,” said Brown. “We had one set of plans and that was, depending on the total space that we could get, it was either a 10,000-square-foot new building or as close to 10,000 as possible.”
But being experimental in nature, the store didn’t become truly dealer-owned until the company later agreed to sell the store to Brown, allowing him to remain in Bryan and eschew his traveling lifestyle.
From then on, Bryan residents have owned the store, and its capital equipment, with Sears owning stock and the local owner earning commission for sales, which was used to pay for utilities and payroll.
The store changed hands two more times over the years, coming to current owner Walsh in 2012.