The distribution center had been a part of life in the North Lawndale community for as long as they could remember. "It marked the first major structure built by a still-young retailer that had plans to become the nation's biggest," the Tribune noted. Sears' story began on April 1, 1887, when Alvah Roebuck answered a want ad in a Chicago newspaper: "Watchmaker wanted who can furnish tools, State age, experience, and salary required. Address T 39." Two days later, he got a letter from Richard Sears, who was selling watches by mail. Sears and Roebuck became partners, established their firm in Chicago and revolutionized the mail-order business by offering a money-back guarantee if customers weren't satisfied with their merchandise. "We Can't Afford To Lose A Customer," the firm's mantra, appeared in its catalog. From watches, the partners branched out to jewelry, silverware and eventually a cornucopia of goodies. According to Kenan Heise, a former Tribune reporter and Chicago historian, Sears' success so threatened storekeepers that some filched the catalog from neighboring mailboxes. In 1897, Roebuck sold his interest in the company, as the Tribune noted when he gave a talk to the West Side Historical Society in 1940. Hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929 , he returned to the company in 1933. He was working in the publicity department when he recounted the company's past for West Side history buffs.
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