The Sears brand has been in Oak Harbor for decades in a variety of shapes and forms. And even though the mega U.S. retailer filed for bankruptcy recently, its name will remain a presence in the city.
In February 2017, Sears Hometown Store opened on Pioneer Way as a locally-owned and operated retailer. Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Inc. is a “spin-off” group that is licensed to used the Sears name but is ultimately a separate entity.
“People still see Sears and they think that we’re gone,” said Carol Vinson, one of the Oak Harbor store’s owners.
Holding the name Sears allows the stores to carry certain brands, like Kenmore, and to accept points from Sears rewards programs. But with the closure of hundreds of full-line stores nationwide, the independent Hometown ones are staying open.
Vinson’s husband, Jim Woessner, was raised in Oak Harbor and remembers the retail giant in all its forms.
“When I grew up here, the Sears Catalog Store was the place to shop,” he said of the late 1960s.
The catalog stores closed in the early 1990s, but, in 1995, Woessner had a unique opportunity to bring the name back. He owned and operated one of the first Sears Dealer stores in the country. He even worked as an advisor to the larger corporate entity to help open the first 500 in the United States, he said.
He showed company executives how “to think small.”
He sold that store on Midway Boulevard to new owners in 1999. However, once again the name took a new shape and another opportunity presented itself in 2016.
That summer, Woessner said he was approached by Sears Hometown, started by a group of former Sears executives who wanted to revert to smaller hardware stores that are independently operated.
The company asked for help finding someone to run the new concept and finding a new, smaller location.
Woessner and Vinson signed the paperwork on Christmas day in 2016, and opened the store again on Dec. 26.
Woessner and Vinson had just purchased a building on Pioneer Way with no concrete plans, but it ended up being an ideal location for their new enterprise. The company moved within 45 days and continued to operate throughout the whole process, Woessner said.
“I decided to get back into it, because I’m nuts,” he said with a laugh. “They were going to leave town … It would’ve been one less local store to get things everybody needs.”
Their store became one of the first dealer stores converted to the Hometown concept, Woessner said.
“Oak Harbor has kind of been on the cutting edge,” he said.
The hardware, appliance, lawn and garden store is meant to be more focused so the employees can have greater expertise. Although customers can have other inventory shipped to the location for no extra charge.
However, the main goal according to Vinson and Woessner, is to keep it a family affair.
Woessner recruited Vinson to run the day-to-day operations. Vinson’s daughter handles commercial costumers and orders. Their dog, Pepper, is also an integral part of the team.
“Sometime we have the grandkids running around,” said Vinson.
“They’re kind of little door greeters.”