It was the 1970s and Sears was at its peak. It dominated American retailing. Its corporate headquarters was the tallest building in the world. A job at Sears was a ticket to a long and lucrative career.
But rivals like Walmart were bearing down, shopping patterns were changing and Sears started making a series of wrong bets.
Over the last four decades, a succession of CEOs have tried to reinvent, reimagine and, finally, save Sears. One discussed merging with rivals Best Buy and Home Depot, talks not previously reported. Another opened the door to hedge-fund billionaire Eddie Lampert, who went on to slash spending with little investment in stores. Amid new consumer habits, technology shifts and Sears’s own missteps, customers fled.
What were the turning points when it lost its grip on the American shopper? Here is the story, told by eight people who lived it (edited from interviews). Mr. Lampert, who is poised to steer a vastly shrunken Sears out of bankruptcy, declined to be interviewed.