80’s Time Travel Trip 1: “Sears Surplus”

OK, first caveat: This actually occurs in the early 90s, but additional features will actually occur in the 80’s.

Sadly, I can’t illustrate this article, as pictures from Sears Surplus are surprisingly hard to find. Yeah, right. Anyhow, the concept here is that once or so a month I will describe in intimate detail an event that I consider seminal in the 80’s childhood existence I led. Granted, by this point, I should have been out of toys, but considering I fetched multiple Ks on my toy collection over the past 3 years tells you about my maturity level.

Anyhow, once upon a time, Sears was SO powerful and large, that it had its OWN network of stores that would receive its own overstock – yes, Sears was so ridiculously large that, rather than sell it’s crap to Big Lots, it would blow it out themselves. Well, for those of you who missed it, Sears Surplus was usually located a few blocks from the flagship Sears store in major metropolitan areas. It was usually in a lower rent district, but close enough to drop craploads of stuff from surrounding Sears.

As you walked in the door, you were met with:

Utter chaos. It was NUTS. Stuff everywhere – I mean, it literally looked like your rich friend’s basement if he never opened any of them, or rather, opened them and shoddily rewrapped them. Now I don’t have much to tell you in the way of the other departments, cause dad gummit, I was there for toys. The background was, somehow I found out this place existed, and I conned my babysitter (yes, shuddup) into taking me via the mass transit system. So we ride over to the low rent district to check it out.

I sprint to the toy aisle(s), yes more than one – the first sign of awesomeness. This place is full of catalog returns – the stuff you always wanted to play with, but couldn’t get your hands on. Most of it was opened too, so you could really try it out. This was awesome – the only downside was, most of the stuff there was definitely one of a kind. If you found something, it’s probably the only one. Among the awesome stuff – several battleship and aircraft carrier playsets that featured micro machine clones so popular in the early 90s. This stuff was great – then I moved on to discontinued action figures and obscure toylines. Found some neat stuff there, and noted some TMNT figures. At this point, I was a little Turtle crazy (yes, I owned a Turtle comm. Yes, I thought it the coolest thing ever. Shuddup.) So nearby, imagine my surprise to see a TMNT logo sticking out from behind some crappy bubblegum machine boxes (the kind that retailed for $129 in the catalog). I got down on my knees to check the first shelf (seriously, it’s like Tuesday Morning after a hurricane in those places then), and I pulled the box out. And it kept coming. It was BIG. It was…

THE TECHNODROME! Words cannot express how freaking awesome this was. Not that the Technodrome had vanished from stores by this time, but I sure didn’t see it much. Here it was! Now, ordinarily, this would be a problem – but here’s the coolest part of Sears Surplus. Everything there hit the store at 25% off to START with. Sometimes – sometimes…CRAZY sales would occur. G2 Transformers for $1, crap like that.

Enough suspense. The price tag on the technodrome….$5.99.

Yes, a shade under 6 bucks. I could not freakin believe it. A whole PLAYSET, to use Shredder, Raphael and others with. Normally I’d snag a playset first and get the figures, but this was like the crown jewel to my collection. But wait! PANIC! Whats in my pocket??

With trembling fingers, I pull out old faithful – my trifold blue velcro wallet with little preppie ducks on it I’ve owned since 84, when it was too big for any of my pockets to hold. $5 from doing yardwork earlier. I was missing a buck! NOOOOOOO! I dragged the heavy box around with me, alternating staring at it and guarding it protectively. Eventually my babysitter came round, finished with her shopping.

“Find something there?” Rather shyly, I nodded and started to stumble through why it was so awesome. She asked in the kind way only a good babysitter can “Um, isn’t this a little expensive?” I launched into my explanation of how much I had, and how I wanted this thing soooo bad. She fetched from her purse a little over a dollar in change and handed it to me. I dutifully agreed to pay it back from my discretionary budget (ie, the loose change I dumped into the bottom of the Seward Trunk Grandmommie had bought me for Christmas a few years back.) So, with her help, we carried the box to the bus stop and jumped on, with me obsessively reading the back of the box till we got home.

Once there, I was no problem to babysit the rest of the day. Ahh the sheer joy of tearing the chunks out of the box and slowly assembling it according to the often humorous directions. At this point, sure I can describe Sears Surplus to you, but if you missed the Technodrome as a kid, there’s no hope for you now. It was amazing. In retrospect now, an awesome playset? Um. Yeah, yeah I’m gonna have to say, yes, still.  A little silly, but freakin’ awesome. I figured I’d go longer, but to be honest, I’m saving a lot back for the 1984 Birthday summary of when I went with a friend to the town’s biggest mall and arcade. That one is freaking amazing. Should Tiny Claws wake me up at 3, you’ll get it sooner rather than later.

Any good childhood bargains? I’d love to hear em – what toy made you just go over the moon that you could afford it or take it home?

6 responses to “80’s Time Travel Trip 1: “Sears Surplus”

  1. Nice story! There are few things better than a good bargain. I never had that experience when I was a kid, but I have it all the time nowadays. Haha.

  2. Hm- I dunno. I don’t remember going to the toy store very often, and every toy was a major prize.
    But THE ONE that I absolutely fell in love with was the Miss America Barbie.
    She had the most beautiful silver-white ballgown, her platinum hair fell in lustrous tendrils… her pearlescent plastic heels… if any girl worshipped her toy like a god, It was me worshipping the utter unattainable beauty of the Miss America Barbie.

  3. I never had (to my knowledge) any of those Sears Surplus stores, but I definitely relate to the feeling you had about the Technodrome. I never had that exact item (I was obssessed with TMNT though!), but I am sure if I think about it for a while I can pinpoint my own version….

    I do know one thing off the top of my head that was basically the toy that got away, and with good reason……MOTU Eternia playset. Before the TMNT craze, I was all about MOTU/Super Powers/Secret Wars/GI Joe. I don’t know if any of you guys ever saw the Eternia playset, IT WAS HUGE!!! Sadly, because of awesome aspect, it had an equally awesome price. 😦 I know it was in the several hundred dollar range. They had one set up on the top shelf of the TRU action figure aisle that just overshadowed everything!!!

    I’ve seen it on ebay occassionally, but new in box goes for over $1000 nowadays. Someday if I ever get disgustingly rich, I will grab it for my future kids. I never have seen a playset that was bigger……

  4. My OMG bargain dream was when I was in my really late teens, I found a whole bunch of Tamagotchi’s on sale for 5 bucks! Also Nano Baby’s.

  5. mister droid

    I used to LOVE Sears Surplus! I just found this post trying to research when they started to vanish. I think ours (Flint, MI) closed in the period between ’88 and 90ish. Info is, as stated, hard to find.
    I got so many great toys there, cheap as hell, years after they had disappeared. Exclusive catalog stuff too, nothing you would see on the shelves around town… real treasure in plain mailers or sometimes simple black litho on white cardboard. I’m 38, so this was in the 70’s and early 80’s. The last thing I found there was the Bionic Six playset for only a couple bucks during the final closeout… and I will never forgive my parents for not letting me buy the Mego Star Trek Mission to Gamma VI playset I found there because the “monster” was just an attached screen printed glove you put your hand in to manhandle your figures. Good times.

  6. now I’ll stay in touch..

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