This bit of retail news might be more symbolic than impactful, but it's certainly worth noting: Sears is closing its last store in its home state of Illinois, specifically in its hometown of Chicago.
This isn't just the Sears whose mail-order catalogs were fixtures -- especially around the holidays -- in the lives of many of us of a certain age.
It's the remnants of that company known as Sears, Roebuck & Co. that began operating in the Windy City in 1893 and grew to become America's largest retailer, with some 350,000 employees headquartered in what was then the world's tallest building: the Sears Tower.
Sears sold the iconic landmark in 1988, and Transformco, the company that now controls what's left of the retail chain, confirmed to Retail Dive that the Sears store inside Woodfield Mall in suburban Schaumburg, Illinois, would close Nov. 14.
From Sears to Sears and Kmart to what's now left
Back in 2004, Sears Holdings completed its purchase of rival Kmart, creating a company with approximately $55 billion in annual revenues from approximately 3,800 full-line and specialty retail stores in the U.S. and Canada. Since then, nearly all those stores have closed, taking with them about 250,000 jobs over the past 15 years.
Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 protection in October 2018. Then, Transformco, led by former Sears CEO Eddie Lampert, bought the company out of bankruptcy and has since closed most of the remaining locations.
That includes this latest group of seven Sears and two Kmart locations, according to SB360 Capital Partners, the liquidation firm managing the closing sales. In addition to the Schaumburg location, other soon-to-close Sears stores are in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and North Carolina; and the Kmarts are both in New York, one in Brooklyn and one in White Plains.
Future plans for Woodfield Mall space and the remaining stores elsewhere
In Schaumburg, Woodfield Mall belongs to Simon Property Group, and plans are to redevelop the space, Transformco says. Ironically, Woodfield Mall is named, in part, after longtime Sears chairman Robert E. Wood and just celebrated its 50th anniversary, according to the Daily Herald.
CNBC reports that a spokesperson for Transformco declined to confirm how many Sears and Kmart stores are still open but that the company's websites list 35 Sears locations, including the one at Woodfield Mall, and 22 Kmart stores.
Meanwhile, according to a statement quoted in USA Today, Transformco's "go-forward store strategy for Sears and Kmart is to operate a diversified portfolio consisting of a small number of larger, premier stores with a larger number of small format stores." So, they plan to continue to have some physical commercial real estate presence.
The Millionacres bottom line: Still in business, just not always the same business
Transformco is not the only business left with former Sears and Kmart properties. You can still invest in them old bones, if you want, through Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE: SRG), the
real estate investment trust (REIT) that was spun off from Sears Holdings to help it raise cash. Transformco is privately held, but Seritage stock is yours for the buying, although it's not doing terribly well of late.
The last Kmart near my house closed a couple of years ago after undergoing a slow, painful demise that mirrored the experience at the Sears inside a mall across the street and others all across America. The mall is still empty, but the big former Kmart box is back in use. Capitalizing on one of the current economy's hot sectors -- self-storage -- it's now a U-Haul storage and rental site.
Maybe some folks are keeping stuff in storage that they bought under that same roof earlier. That'd be kind of an ironic sort of return policy.