SEARS PET DEPARTMENT
When I was a kid, the Sears Store on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet had a pet department. I kid-rock you not. A rather large one too. An actual pet department where one could purchase an endangered critter or a regular animal that’s not in too good of shape after being crammed into a smelly cage for months, guaranteed (not in writing) not to live long, especially in the hands of a nine year old brat, whose promise to properly maintain the creature wanes rather quickly.
The smell of this department was beyond belief. It was located in a sort of a separate wing connected to the garden department – but only separated from the regular store by a door or two. Regardless, your nose could lead you there — one needed not to ask directions — the olfactory (olfactory – word of the day) sensory of the naval cavity would not steer you wrong. Odoriferous – that’s a word, isn’t it? It was that as well…
But I must say I loved going in there. What kid wouldn’t? It was a little zoo inside a store — but a zoo where you could actually BUY an animal and bring it home! Not that I ever had any luck in that department — “Mom, can I get a lizard today?” “NO!” “Come on Ma, I’ll feed it and clean it and all that stuff – I promise!” “I said NO – did you hear me – the answer is NO!” Eventually it sunk in that the answer was no. I didn’t get a chameleon or a root lizard or whatever nasty diseased squamate (ooh, there’s a word) reptiles were offered for sale. But I had to try.
Noise. The noise in that pet department was a cacophony like none other, a deafening dissonance one had to experience to understand. Between the birds of prey and the monkeys, it was mad. Yes, they had monkeys. That you could purchase. And then take home to destroy your house. These weren’t your normal trained 1930’s black and white film actor monkeys. Or the organ-grinder-ha-ha-aren’t-they-cute monkeys either. These were called Spider Monkeys – (or was it Squirrel Monkeys?) little annoying baby-poop colored yapping branch-swingers that didn’t look healthy – as I’m sure they weren’t. I never knew anyone that owned one of those primates.
You could also buy turtles. Most kids love turtles – especially boys. I have a vague memory of a turtle being in our house when I was very little – so it must’ve been one of my older brothers that owned it. It probably didn’t live long — because these pet store turtles never seemed to have a life expectancy like they did in the lakes and streams. Anyway, one-turtle-per-Kramer-family-lifetime was the limit at our house for turtles I guess, because when I asked, “Mom, can I have a turtle?” The answer was the familiar yet emphatic “NO!”
Turtles, chameleons, lizards, hamsters, guinea pigs – all kinds of cool critters kids love and that were never ever setting their itty bitty feet in my house. Another interesting yet humorous (to me) recollection: Anybody I knew back then who ever owned something like a lizard — always became “lost in the house” at some point. The common question heard being — “Mom, have you seen Herman?” Later on, Mom’s screams would verify the lizard discovery and its exact whereabouts.
Can you imagine today having creatures in cages – species of all kinds for the general public to purchase just yards away from the women’s dresses and the jewelry department? Walking into a Home Depot or Lowe’s – “Excuse me, in what aisle are the lizards?”
I’m not sure when the pet department at Sears unlocked its last cage and discarded the final critters that didn’t make it through the night — But I’m guessing it was in the early-mid 70’s – right before the PETA protesters figured it out – (was PETA a force to be ship-wrecked back then or maybe they still had jobs at that point — just a thought.) I know you can still buy animals in cages at Pet Smart, The Bird Nest, The Doggie Den, Puppy Palace, Ferret Fortress (some of these may be made-up) and other animal stores — but monkeys and snapping turtles and aardvarks and emu’s — uh, not so much I imagine. And I’m thinking, that’s a good thing…