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When time forgets
Old 07-13-2014, 05:47 PM   #1
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When time forgets

When my company finally closed its' doors in 2000. there were 37,000 employees left... without jobs, but that was just a tiny part of the history of what was once the second largest retailer in the world.

The saddest part is that there is little left but personal memories, as Wikipedia and other on-line "histories" give little notice to the years that made up most of my w*rking life. Almost no mention of the core catalog business that built the company... no mention at all, of the ten catalog "houses" which employed tens of thousands more jobs (at one time... not cumulative) between 1936 and 1986... See the pic below, for my Albany NY, Catalog House... One of many around the country. Each catalog house employed about 1,000+ individuals. Albany, Baltimore, Portland, Fort Worth, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City, Chicago.
BTW... At one time my office was in the "Tower" on the 9th floor. The building is now upscale apartments. ...Also, later on, in the Chicago offices as sales promotion mgr, on the 19th floor. (2nd pic...) third pic is of the Chicago warehouse. 1,300,000 square feet.

But that wasn't all... In addition to Catalog, there were 900+ full retail stores.

Not even mentioned in the histories, were the 1700 "Sales Agents" ... mom and pop franchise businesses... free standing, and providing community "grounding" in small towns across the US. Neither were the company operated Catalog Stores noted... at one time another 500+ operations, with sales of from 500K to 6Million each... plus telephone "offices"...

My final MW position was as special project manager, in charge of closing field catalog operations... a three year project, that was bittersweet, as I got to tell hundreds of people that they would be out of their careers... since I had put hundreds of them into the business. Easier to come from a friend, than a non-involved youngster.

Yeah... so no big deal here, but a small reminisce of a forgotten period of our US history. Perhaps an indication of the way today's biggest businesses may be seen in the perspective of history.

Any history of your own to share?
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File Type: jpg Wards - Albany.jpg (132.9 KB, 34 views)
File Type: jpg corporate offices.jpg (83.5 KB, 27 views)
File Type: jpg Wards Chicago Catalog house..JPG (135.8 KB, 57 views)
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Old 07-13-2014, 05:59 PM   #2
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Interesting to me that Amazon is so successful in "catalog" sales, where Sears and MW crashed and burned.

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Old 07-13-2014, 06:09 PM   #3
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Yeah... but remember... when we started closing the catalog division, the Apple IIe was not even available.

... and amazon... Right!... Just one of many warehouses...
this one @ 1 million s.f.
http://articles.baltimoresun.com/201...-new-warehouse
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Old 07-13-2014, 06:12 PM   #4
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Old 07-13-2014, 06:34 PM   #5
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The first building is beautiful Art Deco. I'm guessing about 1925? *

Change is inevitable. All businesses have a life cycle and very few last more than a century. That said, we all have emotional attachments and memories to certain iconic businesses, whether we were customers or employees.

I recently joined a Facebook group that shares old photographs of my hometown. I have rarely learnt so much or enjoyed so many good memories, and have been able to contribute information as well. I think it's a great way to keep local history alive and a great resource for students of history. I particularly enjoy architectural history and the evolution of buildings.

* Edited to add: Google is your friend. Building #1 is the 1929 headquarters of Montgomery Ward and is now known as Riverview Center.

http://wikimapia.org/1870403/Montgom...verview-Center
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Old 07-13-2014, 07:16 PM   #6
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I started my career at Anaconda....remember them?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaconda_Copper
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Old 07-13-2014, 07:20 PM   #7
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Meadbh... 1929... You were very close...

At the risk of boring the younger folk here, just a few more things about our business... back then.

I'm guessing 1969 to 1973... surprisingly, we were at the front edge of technology (for retail businesses). We teletyped our orders... at night when long distance phone rates were lowest from our stores and franchises to the catalog fulfillment houses. . This created IBM punch cards.
A side note... this meant sorting and resorting the cards on machines... see pic. My secretary tipped over a mobile tray of cards one day, causing a "resort"... that took five costly hours.
We kept track of 6 million customers in our region, from which catalog mailing lists were generated. See the pic of a similar tape memory "White Room"... where records were stored.
At that same time, I was a field district manager with a 2000 mile route in NY/New England..., and 28 stores. About hi-tech... something that few remember or knew about. I had the first hand held computer in our company... a Sharp Elsi 1... $500 then...
...and one more thing that seems very avant,now... a briefcase drum "scanner" that transmitted diocument via pone... not the same one I was issued, but similar. See photo...
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File Type: jpg MagneticTapeUnits_1972.jpg (165.7 KB, 21 views)
File Type: jpg Elsi 1 sharp.jpg (22.5 KB, 18 views)
File Type: jpg Briefcase drum scanner.jpg (36.9 KB, 16 views)
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Old 07-13-2014, 07:31 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post
At the risk of boring the younger folk here......
On the contrary, I find this kind of social history fascinating. I look forward to the pictures!

Of course, I'm not really one of the "younger" folk here, even if imyoungernu!

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Old 07-13-2014, 07:53 PM   #9
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Well, imoldernu, my departed mom worked for Monkey Wards. All her time there was remembered fondly. She became good friends with her boss and stayed friends with him and his wife until they passed.

Mom worked for them in the late 40s and through the 50s. She was a women working with men. She was given huge responsibilities and mom always said she never felt "put down" as a woman. Think about this, the early 50s!

Mom was a bookkeeper in payroll and started working with IBM calculating machines. They had to WIRE them to program them. MW was a the front of technology and mom later programmed IBM 650 computers in a pseudo machine language. This was before what we would call "real programming" even existed.

Mom eventually quit to raise the kids. If she had stuck with it, she would have been a woman computer pioneer. Too bad.

Man, you really struck up some memories. My first real bicycle was from Wards. I remember many a day shopping with Mom.
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Old 07-13-2014, 07:55 PM   #10
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Interesting to me that Amazon is so successful in "catalog" sales, where Sears and MW crashed and burned.

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I remember growing up during the Christmas season and looking forward to the Christmas catalogues. Having two siblings we would fight over the Sears and JC Penny catalogues. The one that no one wanted to look at was the Montgomery Wards catalogue as the toy section wasn't up to snuff.


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Old 07-13-2014, 07:56 PM   #11
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The Albany store was great. We always started on the 3rd floor bargain center and worked our way down to the first which housed a big candy counter. The long walkway to the catalog pickup area from the main store was always an adventure. I still remember my father tearing off the cap off his pickup truck the first time we drove through the parking garage with it on. Went right in and were able to by c-clamps to fix.

It now has a nice paint job and is in very good shape. I'm sure it is almost full of various businesses and state offices.

I drive past it frequently.

Good Memories

Dale
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:10 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post
When my company finally closed its' doors in 2000. there were 37,000 employees left... without jobs, but that was just a tiny part of the history of what was once the second largest retailer in the world.

The saddest part is that there is little left but personal memories, as Wikipedia and other on-line "histories" give little notice to the years that made up most of my w*rking life. Almost no mention of the core catalog business that built the company... no mention at all, of the ten catalog "houses" which employed tens of thousands more jobs (at one time... not cumulative) between 1936 and 1986...
There is some good MW history out there; a snippet regarding their slow decline is below; from this link Montgomery Ward to Close Its Doors - NYTimes.com
I expect this is something you lived through and know first hand.

But whatever the immediate reason, Ward's demise was long in the cards. Retail historians date the start of the decline to the postwar boom of the 1950's, when its rival, Sears, Roebuck & Company, moved aggressively into the then nascent suburbs, while Ward, under the steely leadership of its then chief executive, Sewell Avery, hoarded cash and waited for a second Great Depression.

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Interesting to me that Amazon is so successful in "catalog" sales, where Sears and MW crashed and burned.

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The parallels are amazing aren't they? See quote below. Perhaps the mistaken strategy above was the primary reason that a clearly winning idea didn't save them.

In 1872 Aaron Montgomery Ward, a traveling dry goods salesman, started selling to farmers by mail through a one-page catalog list. By inventing the general merchandise mail-order catalog, Mr. Ward could keep prices low through bypassing the middlemen, like small-town shopkeepers and itinerant salesmen. Sears was not founded until 14 years later and its catalog came years later still.
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:16 PM   #13
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Indeed, the work world surely changed for many of us between when we began and when we finished. In my case I started in 1974 with C&P, one of the operating companies of the old Bell System. Very 50's-like. Very paternal. Good pay. Good benefits. Employment for life. Defined pension.

Although de-regulation in the 80's opened up lots of other benefits to our populace as a whole, for the employees of the old Bell System it was largely a disaster. Nowhere was that more apparent than with respect to retirement. Once a simple given, an easy thing to achieve for pretty much everyone, retirement morphed into the epic effort that it has become today. It's not ending well for many, many people.

Anyway, the first picture below of the fellow atop the telephone pole is of me in the first couple years of my career. I kept an 8x10 framed copy in my office all the years I was working. Especially as I moved into more senior management positions, I wanted an ever present reminder of my beginnings.

As a sidebar for the photographers among us, my passion for that art had already taken root when these pictures were taken. I carried my Canon AE-1, usually loaded with Tri-X, with me in the truck every day. In this case my girlfriend (who also worked for C&P, had given me the camera as a birthday gift, and who I later married) stopped by while I was working this job and took these two pictures.

c&p_jeff_atop_pole.jpg


c&p_jeff_finished_climbing.jpg
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:21 PM   #14
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So, knowing that it's not likely that my former co-workers will be frequenting this site, and that these threads die a natural death, I'll recollect a bit more of history. Back in 1968, MW (my company) merged with Container Corporation of America... an uneasy marriage that lasted until 1974, when we were bought by Mobil Oil... (now Exxon Mobil)... there began an exciting period of vanity by Mobil, which, thinking it could run anything... tried its' hand at retailing. A disaster of young (highly paid) turks who planned on making a name for themselves by remaking retail in a new mold. A total disaster!
The president af Mobil was Rawleigh Warner... arguably the most powerful business leader in the US at the time.
Sooo... after the Mobil guys destroyed our business and spent billions doing it, the mandate came down...
"Close the Catalog Business"

A planning meeting on the 23rd floor of our headquarters...in that white carpeted room, around a 20 foot oak table with 20 executives, the Mobil staff and Rawleigh Warner (and me) in Attendance. Poor little me, there as the aide to our VP of Catalog... for numbers, facts etc. ...
(let me go back a bit... The year before, I had won a contest that had a Casio Watch as a prize... Quartz... then, new... with a built in alarm.)

So the meeting became contentious... and with some angry words passed, tensions escalated, and nerves were showing... During a hiatus... my wrist watch alarm went off. My boss (quick on his feet)... said "Are we keeping you from something important, Bob?"

That literally broke up the meeting... laughter, red face... and amazingly... Rawleigh Warner broke the ice, and we succeeded in the plan we were looking for.

An itsy bitsy point of history, etched in my brain forever.

It was after that that I went, under cover so to speak... planning and mapping the dissolution of a multi billion dollar business.

Amazing ... those little bits of memory that come and go, and no one knows. Stuff that time forgets.
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:21 PM   #15
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There are many companies that go out of business all the time... and some are pretty big....

The usual problem is they just do not keep up with the times... I remember going to MW at the mall when I was young... but it was a trip... we have to plan ahead what we were going to do etc. etc... funny is that we bought very little from the catalog.... that includes Sears or JCP...


Don't know why.... but dad started going to Sears more than MW... when I grew up I shopped at Sears and JCP... still shop at JCP, but buy very little in Sears.... just do not seem to have what I want...
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:40 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Dalez View Post
The Albany store was great. We always started on the 3rd floor bargain center and worked our way down to the first which housed a big candy counter. The long walkway to the catalog pickup area from the main store was always an adventure. I still remember my father tearing off the cap off his pickup truck the first time we drove through the parking garage with it on. Went right in and were able to by c-clamps to fix.

It now has a nice paint job and is in very good shape. I'm sure it is almost full of various businesses and state offices.

I drive past it frequently.

Good Memories

Dale
Love it!!!!!!
Yeah, the parking garage... I parked on the lowest level (executive parking), and the roof clearance was less than 2 inches. The Lot collapsed later on, crushing cars.

Remember the elevators? Behind the candy counter? One of our funniest was the day we were moving to another floor. We put my office desk on the elevator, a book case behind it, a desk lamp, and a telephone on the desk.

... and sat in the office chair telephone in hand. As the elevator went to different floors, and the door opened... greeted customers with a
"Yes... Can I help you?"
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Old 07-13-2014, 08:50 PM   #17
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FIL was the editor of the Montgomery Wards Auto Club magazine back around 1980. DW and I got press passes to "24 Hours at the Glen", some sort of endurance, Formula 1, or something auto race at Watkins Glen, NY. Technically fun trying to photo speeding race cars and make it look interesting, but it did not convert me to any interest in auto racing. In our early years of marriage we got road trip plans from MWAC along with discounts.
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Old 07-13-2014, 09:39 PM   #18
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I think time forgets many of the large companies that defined a portion of American life. Not only Montgomery Wards and Sears, but I also recall Sprouse-Reitz as a retailer, and several grocery chains. I also recall fondly the neighborhood hardware store, now largely replaced by the big box home warehouses. The local hardware store you actually went and got parts to repair or rebuild items. Not like the throwaway and replace we have now. Things were made to be reworked and repaired. I miss the quality and construction of those days.

Just look at the break-up of the Bell system, a lot of people had to find new jobs or take a serious cut to their retirement plans when the defined benefit plans evaporated before them.

PS - I am only 50, and so many of you here have a lot more memories than me!
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Old 07-13-2014, 11:46 PM   #19
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I remember that Chicago warehouse ... near Halsted and Chicago Ave. if it's the building I'm thinking of. Mom used to like to shop there in the bargain basement. IIRC there was also a counter upstairs where you could order stuff out of the catalog and have it in hand after a brief wait while someone retrieved it from the warehouse shelves. It was in an interesting neighborhood -- the Cabrini-Green housing project was just down the street.
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Old 07-14-2014, 07:27 AM   #20
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I remember that Chicago warehouse ... near Halsted and Chicago Ave. if it's the building I'm thinking of. Mom used to like to shop there in the bargain basement. IIRC there was also a counter upstairs where you could order stuff out of the catalog and have it in hand after a brief wait while someone retrieved it from the warehouse shelves. It was in an interesting neighborhood -- the Cabrini-Green housing project was just down the street.
My dad worked in that building in the 40's as a bookkeeper. I also remember shopping in the bargain basement... a long time ago.
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