Montgomery Wards closing its doors nationwide

January 03, 2001
Santa Paula News

On the heels of talking with a customer about the planned renovation of the Ventura Montgomery Ward’s, a clerk learned from another shopper that the Chicago headquarters of the historic retailer was seeing an exodus of employees - carrying cardboard boxes - leaving the building.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesOn the heels of talking with a customer about the planned renovation of the Ventura Montgomery Ward’s, a clerk learned from another shopper that the Chicago headquarters of the historic retailer was seeing an exodus of employees - carrying cardboard boxes - leaving the building.“We found out the store is closing, all the stores are closing, from the customers,” said the clerk, a Santa Paula resident who asked that her name not be used, on Thursday. “. . .our managers hadn’t even been told.”Montgomery Ward, one of the first retailers in the nation that grew from a one-sheet mail order firm to a 250-store merchandise staple, is closing its doors, the final nail in its corporate coffin sluggish retail sales, not uncommon during the 2000 holiday buying season.Montgomery Ward’s had reinvented itself many times over its 128 year history but just 18 months after emerging from bankruptcy, the corporate owner, General Electric’s subsidy GE Capital Services, pulled the plug on the retailer, which employs about 37,000 people nationwide.It will take several months of going out of business sales before the doors finally do shut on Wards, including the Ventura store directly across the street from the Pacific View Mall on Mills Road.Information from Ventura store management wasn’t forthcoming, as people asked for comment had just themselves learned they would be out of a job in a few months. . .a Ventura Ward’s manager said she would not release even how many employees the unit has until word is reached from corporate headquarters.
There are about 100 employees, said the clerk who lives in Santa Paula. “One of the Electric Avenue section salesman saw it on television at the same time we were starting to talk about it. . .we all feel really bad, not just at losing our jobs, but that something like Wards could go out of business like this.”It was in 1872 when Aaron Montgomery Ward and his brother-in-law established the first dry-goods mail order catalog business with $2,400, offering a one-sheet of 163 items. By 1928, just before the Great Depression started, 244 stores were opened, increased to 531 stores the following year.Bad business decisions seemed to dog the enterprise, including those by CEO Sewell Avery - who although correctly predicted the Great Depression - missing the retail boat by under-stocking the store to match the buying power of what he thought will be a post-World War II recession. . .the subsequent economic boom was a major setback for the chain.Avery also refused to open new stores from 1945 to 1955, letting Sears gain a strong toehold on the retail market while Wards’ sales sagged.Wards was the birthplace of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a poem created by copywriter Robert L. May as a store promotion for the Christmas 1939 shopping season. The poem later became a best-selling song by Gene Autry.Known as a practical place to shop, Wards offered everything from garden supplies to slippers, with just about everything else in between.The actual closing date of the Wards’ stores - located in 30 states - has yet to be announced.



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