Locally owned Sears store to close after 22 years in business

Published 9:06 am Tuesday, April 9, 2019

DOWAGIAC — Since 1997, Sears Hometown Store has provided the greater Dowagiac community with appliances, tools, lawn equipment and local service.

But as owner John Fox draws on age 79 — “a bit too late for early retirement,” as he joked — he is selling his building and the last items in his showroom.

On March 29, Fox closed on the sale of his building, after finding a buyer who offered him what he believed the building was worth. The same day, he received closing paperwork from Sears corporate and has since opened the store for a large closing sale.

Until he closes the doors for good, Fox is still managing his team and making sales about the same way he always has, but the Coloma resident said it will be a difficult day in May when he walks out of the store for the last time.

“The tentative last day is the 10th of May,” Fox said. “It’ll be a big adjustment for me after being here for 23 years and making lots of good friends and customer relationships. I’m going to miss being here in Dowagiac. It’ll be difficult to walk out on the 10th.”

Fox opened Sears Hometown Store in June 1997 with his partner, Jerry Paller, when the coworkers found themselves restless in their careers.

“Basically, we had a general restlessness with where we were,” Fox said. “What makes anyone decide to make a large investment in a new business? There were only catalog stores at that time; there was nothing like this in Dowagiac.”

A few years after opening, Paller left the business and moved out of state, leaving Fox as the sole owner. Since taking sole ownership, Fox has tried to operate his business on the principles of meeting customer needs and serving the local area.

“Take care of the customer,” Fox said about his business philosophy. “Do whatever it takes to take care of the customer, even if you have to bend the rules sometimes.”

While Fox believes knowing products well and guiding the customer to their immediate needs is paramount for any salesperson, he said having a good product is not the only necessity in retail.

“You can have the best product in the world, but if it doesn’t fill costumers needs it’s not a good buy for them,” he said. “Hopefully you’re giving them the product that they needed, not that you needed to sell. That’s becoming a lost art I think.”

Fox does not see his years as a seller in Dowagiac as a one-way relationship, however. As he closes the doors of his store and considers the landscape of retail in the U.S., he believes buyers and customers have an obligation to support local businesses like his, as well as others. He sees that support as necessary both for the businesses and the wellbeing of customers.

“I hear people complain about the lack of certain types of businesses in town, and then I notice them coming back from South Bend with a truck filled with groceries from bigger stores while our local grocery stores are fighting to stay in business,” Fox said. “One thing I would recommend for the future is to shop locally, or [local businesses] won’t be around for you. It’s a changing retail world out there, not necessarily for the better.”

Even with the changing shift in the retail economy, Fox is grateful to his loyal customers and the greater Dowagiac community.

“I very much enjoyed my time here,” Fox said. “I enjoyed dealing with people I considered friends, as did the other team members. It made it more of a hometown experience.”