The Sears Roebuck Building at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933.: The retailer was the innovator of its time, building a thriving mail-order business before going brick-and-mortar. Now, much of that is going away. To an entire generation of young shoppers, Sears is the store they least want to visit in the mall they rarely patronize. But for much of its 132-year history, the company was at the forefront of American retail. Its early mail-order and distribution innovations made it the Amazon of the Gilded Age.