Nancy Guinup, 75, keeps the photo album on her coffee table and often leafs through the plastic pages, reliving the September weekend that Sears flew her first-class to Chicago.
It was an unexpected anniversary gift, marking Guinup's 50th year as an employee with the department store chain.
"You know," a manager hinted months ago, as Nancy folded sweaters at the Sears in Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater, "when you hit 50 years, they'll send you to headquarters."
"Sure they will," she replied, thinking I'll believe it when I see it.
But weeks later, she got an invitation in the mail.
"You're invited to the Golden Jubilee Celebration," she read aloud to her husband, Chuck, and her chihuahua, Jose. "Save the date."
Guinup technically retired in 1999. But because she loves Sears, and because life without her job there gets boring, she returned to work part time and is still there, hanging advertisements and slashing price tags.
After a half-century with Sears in Clearwater, she has built a world around the company.
Regular shoppers stop to chat: How's your daughter? Did you enjoy the cruise?
When she visits the mall's Dunkin' Donuts on break, the baristas know to pour her usual: one large coffee, flavor of the day.
She prefers the morning shifts, 7 a.m. to noon, so Chuck can make her lunch.
And though she doesn't particularly need the extra cash, Nancy takes extra hours around the holidays, just to help out.
"She's an all-star here," said her manager, Sophia Barton, who started working for Sears (and under Guinup's guidance) four decades ago. "She taught me everything I know today. She's a retail master. An absolute pleasure to work with."
• • •
Over the years, Nancy watched Sears drastically change.
The department store once famous for selling everything — from fine furs to gold watches to hand-painted Easter baskets to entire mail-order houses — began shrinking after Walmart rose to prominence.
Guinup, 25 and disillusioned by beauty school, joined the company in 1962. She started in customer service, hand-writing credit card applications at the former Clearwater store on Missouri Avenue, which is now a Publix.
The dress code for female employees then: a solid gray, black or navy dress.
By the time Sears opened in Countryside Mall (and Guinup was authorized to wear pants), she was a gregarious, multitasking manager overseeing cosmetics, home decor and a team of interior designers.
She'd made her best friends, too: Carol McLean, who started at Sears a couple of years after Guinup did, and Sophia, who now manages women's goods.
Under Guinup's watch, the ladies wore makeshift towel-dresses during annual towel sales. Free advertising, Guinup figured, and solidarity.
One day each January, before bookkeeping was delegated to specialists at headquarters, the Countryside employees took inventory of every item in the store. Afterward, per tradition, they'd party with frozen margaritas outside of someone's RV in the parking lot.
• • •
At Chicago's Drake Hotel in September, eight Sears employees from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Florida, each of whom had achieved the 50-year mark, watched as waiters approached their candlelit table and removed the antique silver food covers from plates of fish and steak.
Guinup nearly gasped. This is what it feels like to be a movie star, she thought.
The CEO spoke to the group, congratulating them on reaching 50 years. It's an honor to meet you, he said.
Guinup, who spent her trip to Chicago with Chuck exploring the Navy Pier and the former Sears Tower, left the hotel with a diamond ring marked with an "S," a wooden jewelry box and a gift certificate she recently used to buy her grandson a flat-screen Samsung TV.
She has no plans to retire again.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4224.