Sears used to be the great, big department store at Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. Liberty House used to mark the Waikiki side, Sears marked the town side, facing Pi’ikoi Street. Today is the last day Sears in Ala Moana will be in business. A Bloomingdale’s will be in its place. It’s hard to believe that this store was the grand place for everything from paint to clothes, electronics to paint. As a kid, it seemed we shopped there a lot. These are things I somehow remember, some fondly:
1) My mom always bought me Toughskins for school. I often wore corduroys. Never liked them.
2) When my parents would do their shopping in the store, I would often go to the toy section and play the Atari 2600, if no one was there. Or, as it was with Atari etiquette, we would take turns. The games were usually Target Fun or Sea Hawk, and those games seemed to be in the Atari for years. Even when the Intellivision was introduced to the store, the Atari 2600 had a lot more people playing.
3) There were brief moments when I would be in the paint section, wondering why so many people were buying paint and our family did not. One day, we did buy paint, but I don’t remember if it was for the house or something else. It couldn’t have been for anything but the house.
4) When we were parked in the parking garage, we would always walk through the door and smell the food that was in the lobby. Most of the time it was warm cashews, and my parents loved them. I still love cashews to this day, and there was nothing like that walk and that scent. Sometime in the late 70’s/early 80’s, Wally Amos had his own section for Famous Amos Cookies, where the cookie of choice for us Hawaiians was “Da Kine”, which featured macadamia nuts. He still had his outlet store on Ke’eaumoku Street, but there were much more people walking through Sears, so I’m sure he made a lot of money that way.
5) Also through the downstairs lobby was a few stand-up arcade games, which for us kids meant “forget Atari, we’re going to play the big stuff.” What used to be a diner to the right eventually became an arcade room, but I remember playing the arm wrestling game in the lobby.
6) The upstairs/second floor seemed to be where my mom loved to shop, as it had beds, mattresses, clothes, fabric, sewing machines, and all of that stuff. While she was there, I headed to the record section. Sears had a very healthy Hawaiian music section, as with most record stores in Hawai’i, and I always remembered being treated well there, or at least a kid who wasn’t going to break anything. I remember the huge catalogs where one could special order cassettes, as that was the cool thing in the brand-new era of the Walkman. I know many records were bought for me here, but I don’t remember any specific one. Maybe Wet Willie’s “Weekend”? Not sure, but I do remember one day going through F and seeing Funkadelic’s Electric Spanking For War Babies. I had liked the group, but wondered why the cover was censored. I would find out much later in my teen years.
7) Next to the record section was the electronics: transistor radios, clock radios, and the like. It was there I held my first Walkman, or I should say, a Walkman knock-off. It was a portable cassette player, but it was small and blue. I want to say it was a Sanyo. For my birthday, I would receive what I thought was that Sanyo portable cassette deck, but it was a knock-off of that. A knock-off of a knock-off? Man.
The other part of Sears I did like was the photo department on the ground floor, as one was able to buy not only Kodak and Fuji film, but tourists could also buy three minute 8mm film reels that were souvenirs of their time in paradise. It’s funny to think back and realize that that was the only option for many to bring home moving images of Hawai’i. Those films may have been shot in the 60’s or 70’s, but… as a family who had a projector and camera, it made me interested in making movies with the 8mm, but not leading to much. Also on the ground floor was a candy section, for those of us (i.e. mom) who wanted popcorn or chocolate. I also had my mom buy me my first and only football jersey. It was the Dallas Cowboys, but on it had the the word Hawai’i and the number 79. Those football jerseys were massively popular, as it represented where we were from and what year it was.
As a prank, while my mom used the restroom, I had a quarter and used it to buy a tampon. She about freaked when I showed her my gift. I didn’t know exactly what it was for at the time, I just knew it as “a woman’s thing”.
The point is, Sears was packed with stuff and one could go to Ala Moana and spend a good half hour to an hour did, as I’m sure my parents did many times. When I came back for visits to Honolulu, Sears would become “the old people store”, one to ignore, one to neglect. It wasn’t as hip as I thought it was as a kid, and while I would walk past it, there was no reason anymore to go in. There were more exciting stores in Ala Moana. Even here in Washington State, a Sears was a store of last resort. Lots of hardcore, lots of washing machines. For a short time, it was a place where one could buy a region free DVD for about $50, back when that was considered a major find. These days, a Sears may be just a store to walk through to get to the rest of the mall/shopping center, and perhaps that’s why the one in Ala Moana has closed. Too much precious real estate, so why not replace it with something else that will be worth the land and earn money?
Thank you Sears for some great childhood memories. Thank you to the cashew sellers.