You don't have to be all that old to remember when Sears and Kmart were household words.
Sears department stores and Kmart discount stores offered a variety of goods at prices which, judging from the stores' longtime financial success, millions of consumers were willing to pay.
But the retail chains have fallen on comparatively hard times in recent years. Many shoppers have migrated to other stores -- notably Wal-Mart and Target -- for a range of reasons, whether it be price, selection or some other factor.
That migration was punctuated by the just-concluded Christmas shopping season, during which sales were weak. And Sears Holding Corp., the parent company of Sears and Kmart, saw steady revenue declines from 2006 to 2010.
Now, Sears Holding Corp. plans to close 100 to 120 underperforming Sears and Kmart stores. In a bid to reverse its fortunes, it will focus instead on stores that are making money.
Sears and Kmart were once so popular that it was hard to imagine their present struggles. In fact, there is often concern that a chain will become so dominant that it will squeeze out everyone else and create a monopoly. That was frequently said about Wal-Mart until it, too, ran into difficulties in recent years.
The stores' troubles remind us that in a free market, customers have the right to vote with their feet and their dollars. That encourages stores to provide improved goods and services at more competitive prices.
So we regret the pain that results for businesses that don't compete as well, but competition benefits consumers and our economy as a whole.