AUGUSTA — Some original employees of Sears at the Turnpike Mall are planning a “wake” Thursday in honor of the closing of their former workplace that’s been there for about 50 years.
The event, organized by Cal Brown of Litchfield, who worked in sales there for more than 21 years, and several other longtime employees, begins with a noon walkabout.
“We plan to walk through the store, reminisce a bit about ‘them good ol’ days’ and just have a good look around,” the organizers say. Then they’ll adjourn for a lunch.
The closing of the Augusta Sears store was announced Dec. 27, 2016, by Sears Holdings, the parent company. The closure of more than 40 other Sears and Kmart stores nationwide were announced in the same round by the troubled national retailer. The Augusta store is to close by the end of March.
Brown, 70, said he’s heard from about three dozen people who say they’re attending as well as some of their spouses. He’s hoping others who learn about it will attend as well.
Sears relocated from the east side of Water Street — where it had been since 1939 — to the mall in October 1967. Sears anchored one end of the strip mall and a Zayre Store was at the other, later becoming Ames Department Store.
Brown worked at Sears as a salesman in the hardware and lawn and garden department, earning straight commission. He was there the day the store opened, having done a week or so of training at the Water Street store.
“I was 20 years old,” Brown said. “I was working out of state, and my father knew the manager of the department and I came up for an interview. He said, ‘You can have the job if you want it. You have to be here next Monday.'”
Since it was Tuesday, Brown said he needed to give more notice to his current employer in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“How much notice do you think they’d give you if they wanted to get rid of you?” the manager asked.
Brown took the job.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was really, truly the good old days of working. We had the greatest group of employees; that’s why we still stick together.” He said they gather about once a month to reminisce and discuss what Sears had done wrong. “Most of us saw it coming.”
Brown encouraged former employees to meet at noon at the mall entrance to the store. Anyone wanting more information can contact him via email at [email protected]
Brown left Sears in 1989 when the commercial sales work was moved out of state. He started a fencing business, which he has since sold.
Donna Michaud of Randolph began working at Sears in about 1971 and remained for 31 years, starting in credit, then selling big-ticket items, ending up in automotive and then sporting goods. She retired in 2001.
“It was a great place to work; we were all very close to each other,” Michaud said. “It had a family atmosphere. It’s very sad to see it go like this.”
Ann McCaslin of Winthrop worked 32 years at Sears from 1967 to 1999 in at least five different jobs. “I sold in appliances, worked in human resources, trained new employees, worked in auditing,” she said. “The only place I didn’t work was out in the garage.”
She was at the Turnpike Mall Sears while it was still being built.
“I never had a day that I didn’t want to go to work,” she said.
Florence Moore, who worked at the store from 1971 to 1991, started as temporary Christmas help and stayed on in the fashion department.
“We used to have fashion shows in the mall every month,” said Moore, 90, of Hallowell. “And then I put on a big fashion show at the Calumet Club with one of the other stores. We had all the queens of Maine — Miss Potato, Miss Strawberry, Miss Blueberry. I did all kinds of crazy things.”
Brown recalled a few stories from the heyday of Sears, including one time when two men were debating over whether to buy a chainsaw marked down to $35 that had been likely left from the Water Street store. While they hemmed and hawed, a woman walked up to Brown and said, “I’ll take it.”
He took it out of the men’s hands and sold it to her, leading the men to complain to the manager who backed Brown.
Then there was the time Brown refused to sell a chainsaw to a doctor who consistently called for service for his tractor/lawn mower because the fail/safe mechanisms proved too much for him. Brown said he believed the doctor was never able to start the machine on his own.
“You do not want a chain saw,” Brown told him, adding he was thinking to himself, “We’ll be over there all the time taking care of him.”
When the doctor insisted, Brown said, “You work with your hands, right?”
He left without making the purchase and returned a week later. “He picked the chain saw off the rack, picking it up with both hands on the bar and chain,” Brown said, describing the business end of the saw. The doctor asked Brown how it worked.
“He never did buy one from me,” Brown said. “I couldn’t in good conscience sell the guy a chain saw.”
This story has been updated to reflect a date change. The “wake” will be on Thursday, March 23, not Wednesday as previously reported.
Betty Adams — 621-5631