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October 14, 2013

Oneonta campaigned to keep a Sears store downtown in 1978

Downtown Oneonta as a retail hub was showing signs of distress in the late 1970s. A “SOS” message was being delivered by many retailers in October 1978. In this case, the message meant, “Save Our Sears.”

It was learned on Monday, Sept. 11, 1978, that the Sears-Roebuck store, then found at 220-24 Main St. would be pulling out of the city by Dec. 31.

“The basic problem is that we are dealing with a functionally obsolete facility,” a company spokesman told The Daily Star from a St. Davis, Pa., territorial office. The spokesman also said that this was not a sign that the company was experiencing financial problems, adding that Sears had tried several different merchandising schemes over the past few months to keep Oneonta’s store open, but “none of them worked.”

Sears had been a downtown shopping landmark at that location, having opened in their brand new building on Thursday, Nov. 14, 1940, according to a newspaper advertisement from that year.

Retailers and the general public in Oneonta decided not to simply accept the closing and move on.

According to the Star of Tuesday, Oct. 3, 1978, “Oneonta businessmen will woo Sears, Roebuck and Co. with flowers, petitions and song if that’s what it will take to keep the retail chain’s store in downtown Oneonta.” At a meeting held on Monday night no less than 62 business representatives and residents attended, to attempt to reverse Sears’ decision to close.  

Specific plans were delegated at the meeting headed by Community Development Director Joseph Bernier. Theodore Bard of Henderson’s clothing store was elected president; Harold deGraw of The Oneonta Theatre as vice president; Edward Somers of the Daily Star, secretary; and Roland Peacock III of National Commercial Bank, treasurer. The organization became known as the Save Our Sears Committee.

The Save Our Sears campaign got a fast start. A full-page ad in The Daily Star on Oct. 20 urged residents to fill out a coupon and mail it to the SOS Committee, as well as to write a letter to Edward Telling, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Sears in Chicago.

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