Mr. Sam Stuns Goliath

After a century as the giant of U.S. retailing, Sears loses the top spot to folksy, hard-charging Wal-Mart

With its Regency furniture, rich wood paneling and commanding view of Chicago's skyline, the executive floor of the 110-story Sears Tower is a monument to the company's glorious century as America's favorite store. Now those days are gone. When Sears' 13 directors gathered last week in the spacious, peach-carpeted 68th-floor boardroom, the reports they faced were overwhelmingly bad. A mammoth increase in advertising had scarcely budged sales. Profits were way down. The Christmas selling season was the worst in 15 years. One piece of news especially seemed to mock the setting's regal grandeur. Sears, officially, is no longer America's largest retailer....

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