Remembering Sears mail-order homes as the last Sears department store closes in Illinois

Jennifer Geer

The former retail giant that even sold houses is closing its Woodfield Mall location this weekend

Sears, Roebuck and Co. was founded in Chicago as a mail-order catalog in 1893 and eventually became the largest retailer in the nation.

The store grew to sell almost everything you could think of, including clothing, watches, washing machines, exercise equipment, and toys.

If you're around a certain age, you will not forget the joy of getting the Sears Toy Catalog, where you happily circled your wishes at Christmas time.
1966 Sears Christmas Catalog(Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0/

But the former retail giant has fallen a long way from its former heyday. And now, the very last Sears store is leaving Illinois, the state where it all began.

Sears closes its last Illinois store at Woodfield Mall
Sears at Woodfield Mall in 2019(David Wilson/CC BY 2.0/

Sears held one of the anchor stores when Woodfield Mall first opened 50 years ago. And now, it's the last Sears store in the state.

Although there are 11 Sears Hometown stores left in Illinois that carry appliances, tools, and yard equipment.

Sears sold ready-to-assemble home kits

For a little over 30 years, from 1908 to 1940, Sears even offered sold ready-to-assemble kit homes from its catalog.

For only $5,000 or less, if you had a plot of land and some DIY skills, you could have your own cozy home. The kits were an affordable option that was popular among immigrants and minority workers who could get a mortgage from Sears without having to put down their ethnicity, race, or gender in the application.

The buyer would choose a model and have everything they needed to be shipped to them to assemble their home, including windows and flooring.

These were not shabby kits. These do-it-yourself houses turned out to be sturdy long-lasting homes, many of which are still standing in the Chicago area and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The houses have stood the test of time. You can find many of them around neighborhoods in Chicago suburbs such as Downers Grove, Geneva, and Lombard.

These are not the tiny prefab houses you can buy today, but small to mid-sized homes big enough for a family. There were 447 different models to choose from, giving neighborhoods of the past much more character than the suburban sea of sameness we have these days.

How can you recognize a Sears home?
Sears home (Aladdin model in Ohio)(Nyttend/Public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

If you'd like to learn more about Sears homes, you should start with this blog. And here are nine ways to tell if you are living in a Sears home.

The Village of Downers Grove has published a driving/walking tour map where you can view the 21 Sears homes that have been identified in the area.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL

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