Bob Vila, recognized as a prominent home improvement television host, gained fame through his tenure on “This Old House” (1979-1989) and “Bob Vila’s Home Again” (1990-2005), along with his role as a spokesperson for Sears. His journey into television hosting began when he was hired by WGBH-TV to host “This Old House” after receiving the prestigious “Heritage House of 1978” award from Better Homes and Gardens. The award recognized his restoration efforts on a Victorian Italianate house in Newton, Massachusetts, a project that marked the commencement of his successful career.
During the early years of hosting “This Old House,” Vila’s compensation was modest, starting at $200 per episode and later increasing to $800 per episode. Over the 10-year period hosting the show, his potential earnings capped at around $188,000. Vila treated the hosting gig as a side business for his contracting firm, R.J. Vila Inc. However, as the show progressed, he began leveraging his name for sponsorships, endorsing various brands and companies on the show, eventually earning over $500,000 annually. This led to conflicts with WGBH-TV and the show’s underwriters, Home Depot, due to Vila endorsing a competitor named Rickel. Despite WGBH-TV’s request for him to cease his role as a spokesperson, Vila refused, resulting in his termination.
Surprisingly, his termination turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events as Sears hired him within a year, making him the primary spokesperson for their hardware business. Vila featured in commercials promoting the Craftsman tools brand, often filmed at his South Florida residence on the grounds of the former Richmond Naval Air Station. Despite Craftsman’s long history and reputation for being made in the United States with an unlimited lifetime warranty, Vila’s partnership with Sears came to an end in 2006, coinciding with Sears’ overall decline that would render it unprofitable by 2010.
Undeterred, Vila continued his career as a spokesperson and remained a regular presence on the Home Shopping Network, endorsing his own brand of tools. Meanwhile, Sears underwent a significant decline, going from over 3,500 stores in 2010 to just 695 stores by 2017. In an attempt to alleviate its financial struggles, Sears began selling assets, including the iconic Craftsman brand, which was acquired by Stanley Black & Decker in 2017. Sears ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018, aiming to address its $4.2 billion debt, shed unwanted store leases, and avoid liquidation. As the company continues to close stores across the country, the house once used for Sears commercials stands mostly empty.
Photojournalist: • David Bulit