There are very few falls from grace in the retail world that can match the ongoing downfall of Sears. Chances are the longtime location in your local mall has shuttered in recent years, leaving behind an empty space as the company continues to downsize. Unfortunately, even as the retailer tries to recover from decades of dwindling business, things are not looking bright. And now, Sears has announced that one of its last remaining locations will close in the coming weeks. Read on to see if you'll soon be saying goodbye to the fallen retail icon—and which stores are still standing.
Sears recently emerged from a protracted bankruptcy amid multiple closures.
Given how poorly things have gone for the company recently, it can be difficult to imagine that Sears built itself up from a mail-order business near the turn of the century to become the top retailer in the U.S. during the 1980s. But things have been on a tragic decline in the decades since: In 2004, Kmart purchased the company as a last-ditch effort to save both of the struggling stores. Despite its best efforts, store numbers continued to dwindle until Sears declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018, Forbes reported.
Usually, such a strategy can help a company muster funds and reposition itself to hopefully stay afloat. Instead, Sears found itself mired for four years as a lawsuit brought forward by the store's creditors and suppliers waiting to get paid for goods and funds languished in court, Retail Dive reported in August. After a $175 million settlement broke the deadlock over the summer, the company was finally able to bring itself out of bankruptcy on Oct. 29. But despite the trajectory change, one retail expert said the store's days were likely numbered.
"They do not have an appealing value proposition to customers, and the amount of competition in the retail marketplace offering similar goods means the end will come at some point," Ray Wimer, PhD, professor of retail practice at Syracuse University, told Fox Business earlier this month.
The fading retailer is closing another location next month.
Sears has seen its retail footprint continue to shrink quickly since it first declared bankruptcy. Now, its list of remaining locations is about to get a little shorter.
The Sears store at the Valley Mall in Union Gap, Washington, will close its doors for good, local CBS affiliate KIMA reports. Locals still have some time to pay the location one last visit: Its original closing date of Nov. 20 was pushed back a month until Dec. 18. However, the outlet reports that "even with less than a month until the store actually closes, there is still little merchandise left as the store sits nearly empty."
When reached for comment, a store manager said the site could still be turned into a Sears outlet store, KIMA reports. However, a representative from the mall's management company says no decisions have been made yet.
"We've been talking to grocery [stores], entertainment uses, and soft goods," Traci Russell, vice president of leasing for mall owner CenterCal Properties, told the Yakima Herald-Republic in September.
These are the only 21 Sears stores that now remain standing.
The loss of the Union Gap location is just the most recent in a long list of Sears closures that have shrunk the company to a fraction of its former size. There will only be 21 locations remaining across the U.S. after the latest shuttering—down from 700 when the retailer declared bankruptcy in 2018, according to NJ.com.
Not including the soon-to-shutter location, the last full-format Sears stores remaining are in Burbank, Concord, Stockton, and Whittier, California; Miami, Orlando, and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; Frederick, Maryland; Braintree, Massachusetts; Jersey City, New Jersey; Greensboro, North Carolina; Camp Hill, Pennsylvania; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Tukwila, Washington.
The remaining locations are the company's smaller format focus stores. Sears Home&Life is still open in Anchorage, Alaska; Overland Park, Kansas; and Lafayette, Louisiana. And the company still has a handful of Appliance&Mattress locations in Fort Collins, Colorado; Honolulu, Hawaii; and El Paso and Pharr, Texas. Sears Hometown locations—which operate as a smaller-format franchise operation—are not included in the count.
It's uncertain what the future holds for the former titan of retail.
After the lengthy, drawn-out litigation process during its bankruptcy, Sears has emerged very much a shell of its former self. Besides its diminished retail locations, the company also sold off many of its few remaining valuable assets, such as Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, and DieHard car batteries, Bloomberg reports. Now, experts say there might not be enough left to save the beleaguered store.
"A failure to invest in itself is why Sears melted down to what it is today," Steve Azarbad, a managing director at retail vendor credit protection company TradeGuard, told Bloomberg. "At this point, investors would have been better off if it liquidated 10 years ago."
Even the remaining locations show signs of a bleak future. At its store at Newport Centre in New Jersey, shopping floors remain mostly empty of people besides staff while entire sections are blocked off—all while the surrounding shops remained busy, Bloomberg reports.