'It's a heartache': Woodfield Sears visitors shop for nostalgia on store's closing day
The signs hanging from the ceiling of the Sears department store at Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall declared that everything must go.
But nearly everything was already gone.
The shelves and rolling racks were empty, with only a few pieces of merchandise remaining.
Still, a large crowd of shoppers wandered the aisles Sunday collecting, if nothing else, memories of the store's final day after five decades as a pillar of the mall.
"Even though I was looking to see if there was anything, this is more nostalgia," said Schaumburg-area resident Dave Getsla. Instead of pulling items off the shelves, Getsla took some pictures in the store and sent them to his children in Arizona and Huntley.
"This was always our go-to place, and we bought appliances from Sears," he said. "I would buy tools from Sears. I would buy clothes from Sears."
The closing marked not just an end of an era for Woodfield, which opened in 1971 with Sears among its biggest draws, but also for the iconic brand. The store was Sears' last remaining department store in its home state.
Sunday's atmosphere was a far cry from the store's opening on Aug. 4, 1971, when Miss Illinois, Anita Joyce Pankratz, waved her "magic wand" and officially led shoppers into the building. The mall was named partially in Sears' honor -- the "Wood" in Woodfield" is for legendary former Sears Chairman Robert E. Wood.
"Fifteen years ago, I had a dream, and fortunately for me, seven years ago Sears saw the same dream I had," Schaumburg Mayor Bob Atcher said at the time of Sears' decision to build at Woodfield.
Officials from Sears' Hoffman Estates-based parent company Transformco announced the store's closing in September, as part of a corporate plan to "redevelop and reinvigorate the property." Company officials last week declined to comment on their plans for the space. Schaumburg Economic Development Director Matt Frank said the company has not informed the village what might come next.
Those visiting Sunday were more focused on the store's past than its future. Among them were former employees like Schaumburg resident Rich Schmuldt, who worked there from its opening until 1993.
"I wanted to come back for the sake of just seeing what the store looked like," he said. "It's very depressing."
Michael Smith, who worked in loss prevention, said the store used to have 700 employees.
"When they built this store, if you looked out the window, you could see the (Sears) Tower," said Smith, who traveled from Wisconsin for the final day.
He also remembered that during the nighttime hours, when the store was closed, Sears employees from all over the country would come in to shoot training films. "This was the hub of everything."
One Sunday visitor, Oak Park resident Frank Mascenic, wondered what the closing means for Woodfield and whether "is it always going to be Amazon from now on?"
"It's a heartache actually," added Pamela Weber of Villa Park. "It's very sad. It's such a large part of tradition disappearing."
• Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.