It’s Christmas, and before long, the local channels will be airing my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Many folks think it’s a movie about one man making a difference in the world, but I saw it in a different way: “It’s a Wonderful Life” explains why homeownership is so important to our country’s prosperity and economic health.
After The Great War ended, the magazines and newspapers of the time boldly extolled the many virtues of homeownership. Post-war, contemporary literature made it clear that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. Homeownership benefited not only individual families, but also neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, the entire country.
What better modern-day model do we have than Detroit or East St. Louis? How many homeowners live in these two communities? Despite some searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s NOT MANY.
The message communicated by Sears Modern Homes catalogs and early 20th Century magazines was this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.
In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.
And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.
Remember Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver)?
In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”
The streets of this alternate Bedford Falls are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, burlesque shows and billiard halls. Garish neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls.” Breviloquent policemen struggle to keep peace and order among the surly citizens.
George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” came from - in part - a realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.
Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.
Sears empowered countless thousands of the poor and working class to become homeowners. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?
How many towns were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.
Sears Modern Homes made a significant and enduring difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.
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