Tracy Easterling spent about an hour shopping at one of her favorite stores, Sears, on Sunday. It ended up with nothing to show but memories.
Easterling was at a Sears in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of only 15 full-line Sears stores still open. Sears was once the world’s largest and the most important retailer🇧🇷
“This is the first time I’ve been here in a while,” she said as she browsed the shoe selection, where the shoes were still in boxes rather than on display.
“I just came to sell. But it’s so empty and there’s not much to choose from,” he said. “You can come back the other day and get everything you need in one store.”
When Easterling told her friends she was going to stop at Sears, their reaction was, “Is there a Sears still open?”
“Look at this. It’s as empty as can be,” he said, looking down the aisles without seeing the other customers though. buyers in force The weekend after Thanksgiving.
Most of the throngs of shoppers at the Jersey City store on Sunday were older and, like Easterling, remembered Sears in its heyday.
Many left quickly without finding what they were looking for. Several of the young shoppers said they only stopped there because they could remember coming as children.
“I used to shop here years ago with my great-grandmother,” said Razeyah Surrell, 23, who came hunting for a pair of pants while shopping with her friend Taryn Reczkowski, 22. was looking for
“I walked in and said, ‘Wow, that’s sad,'” Reczkowski said.
Its founding catalog and anchor position in many malls across the country has been a slow, quiet death for a popular chain that once turned Sears into an Amazon.
(AMZN) and the Walmart of its era.
When Sears and Kmart merged In 2005, between them, they had 3,500 US stores and more than 300,000 employees. But both brands were already in a downward spiral. After the merger, the company focused on selling its more attractive real estate assets repurchase of shares an attempt to prop up a declining stock price instead of investing in modernizing the shops to make them competitive.
By 2018, the company filed for bankruptcy. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund operator who masterminded Kmart’s disastrous merger and served as the holding’s CEO, bought the remnants of the business in early 2019 out of bankruptcy. He promised to turn things around after paying off most of his debt. , unprofitable stores and less attractive rentals.
The company that out of bankruptcy At the start of 2019, Transformco — with its overly optimistic name — owned 223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores nationwide. But less than four years later, it’s almost on life support, as demonstrated by its small brick-and-mortar footprint and lack of buyers.
Now, experts say there is no reason to keep even the few stores that are still open.
“Sears has been empty for too long. There is no chance of it being revived,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “No one but Eddie Lampert knows why he keeps these remaining stores open. It is not possible to run the economy with stores of this volume.”
As for why Sears hasn’t pulled the plug yet, Saunders said, “Some contracts or agreements may have a penalty if they close all the stores. Or maybe they’re open because Eddie Lampert has a very strange view of business. He still believes he can get that illusion back. A lot of it can be about ego.”
Mark Cohen, director of retail at Columbia University and former CEO of Sears’ Canadian division before the Kmart merger, said that while the company’s demise now seems inevitable, it didn’t have to be.
Sears’ experience managing a catalog with a comprehensive list of products made it better positioned than other traditional retailers to move online early, he said. And he said Sears has better leases than competing chain stores.
“It could be a competitor to Amazon. It was the Amazon of its time,” Cohen said. “Sure, Sears had to close stores and consolidate holdings, but their real estate wasn’t going to be an albatross for other chain stores. Nothing was going to stop it from having a second life as a world beater. in the end it was all down to the incompetence and incompetence of his leadership.”
It will join a long list of retailers including if or when Sears closes its last store radioshack🇧🇷 free shoes🇧🇷 Gymboree and American Apparelit filed for bankruptcy only to go out of business a short time later.
It is difficult to obtain the exact number of stores that remain open in the company. The total of 15 remaining Sears stores is down by about a third from 23 at this time last year. But those numbers come from the store locator on the company’s website. Spokesmen for Sears, Transformco and Lampert’s hedge fund did not respond to questions about the remaining store count, the company’s profitability or future plans.
The Sears name may live on even if the last full stores close.
After emerging from bankruptcy, Transformco purchased a holding company that included a franchisee-owned chain of stores operating under its name. hometown🇧🇷 The stores are part of the full-line Sears size and focus on selling appliances, tools and outdoor equipment.
Before Transformco reacquired Sears Hometown in 2019, there were about 700 of those stores, but they, too, have been closing steadily. About 100 stores were closed earlier this year, leaving just over 100 open today.
Kmart has shrunk to even smaller sizes.
There was only one year ago six Kmart stores in the US mainland and six more in Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. A store has since closed in Puerto Rico, leaving only three stores on the mainland, each in Florida, New Jersey and Long Island, New York, according to Dick Barta, a former Kmart employee who has followed store closings closely. years. The Kmart website backs up those numbers.
The holiday shopping season is over strong startand that might help Sears hold his breath a little longer. But if the US economy does drag into decline Katie Thomas, head of the Kearney Consumer Institute, an in-house think tank at consulting firm Kearney, said that, as many economists fear, this could be the final straw that leads to its demise.
“It’s hard to argue that consumers will go to those stores if they’re holding back the costs,” he said. “I think [a recession] could be the final nail in the coffin.”
As for when Sears might eventually close the last remaining stores, Cohen said it doesn’t really matter at this point.
“The time of death was 2005,” he said, recalling the year Lampert took control of the company.
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