Originally created 01/08/01

Montgomery Ward, R.I.P.

The immediate concern of the nationwide closing of Montgomery Ward is that it will cost about 100 Augusta area residents their jobs and turn Regency Mall into a virtual ghost mall.

But there's another reason for sadness as well. A piece of Americana passes into history. The stores have their genesis in 1872 when Aaron Montgomery Ward got a wonderful idea, brilliant in its simplicity: Publish and distribute catalogs with useful, popular goods for sale, including clothing.

Talk about changing a nation's buying habits - there's been nothing like the catalog revolution, up to and including buying on line.

Catalog shopping was not only convenient, allowing shoppers to buy from their homes instead of braving the elements to get to a store, but for farming and rural communities it provided a vital link to the nation's cultural and fashion centers.

Country stores were few and far between and they carried only a fraction of the items available in a Ward catalog. Catalogs to Americans in that long bygone era - before electricity, mass transportation and instant communication - were to mass marketing what radio, TV and the Internet are to today's generations of Americans.

The first Montgomery Ward department store opened in 1926 and it quickly became a retail giant with scores of outlets around the nation. But it was a slow-moving giant, overtaken by other giant retailers such as Sears-Roebuck and smaller, modern specialty stores like The Gap.

The business press has been following the decline of Ward's for years, so for knowledgeable consumers its demise is no surprise - in fact, it was inevitable. Except for a hardy but dwindling band of loyalists, including many Augustans, this once pioneering and popular store simply got old and died, almost like it was ordained by nature.

Ward's deserves a nostalgic shedding of a tear or two - even, for that matter, a period of mourning.


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