‘There is almost nothing in there’


Sears breathes its last breaths in Pennsylvania, a sad end for America’s largest retailer that employed thousands of people in a massive mail-order complex on Roosevelt Boulevard and in Philadelphia-area mall stores.

Only one full-service Sears department store remains open in Pennsylvania this holiday season, and it’s in Willow Grove, while a stripped-down Sears in Camp Hill only sells mattresses and appliances.

In comparison, Amazon has seen tremendous growth over the past year. It now has nearly 60 warehouses in the Philadelphia area, many of which opened during the pandemic.

Beaten down by Walmart, Amazon-led online sellers, and mismanagement, Sears fell apart without much publicity. This month, Sears closed its last department store in its Illinois headquarters and the last in Hawaii.

A Sears website lists one Sears department store in New Jersey, Jersey City, and two in Delaware, Seaford and Middletown. It is believed that there are only a few dozen full-service Sears department stores left across the country. Closures continue, the website is out of date, and the company is not disclosing the current number of operating Sears stores.

In this high season for retailers, the Willow Grove store looks like a closing sale. The posters advertise 60% markdowns.

Sears turned two floors of the Willow Grove store into one with discount dishwashers, refrigerators and stoves that battle for attention with ping-pong balls, mattresses, tools, jeans , work jackets, pillows and bedding.

The employees are few. Shoppers mostly walk through the merchandise floor – glancing at the discounted mattresses on the way – to the mall itself or to use the Sears restroom.

Mark Higgins, 26, said his parents shopped at Sears when he was young. Higgins’ latest Sears purchase? A Temple hoodie for his uncle ten years ago, a birthday present. Her grandmother had a mail coupon.

Higgins was using the Sears restroom that day. He didn’t buy anything.

“There’s almost nothing in there,” said Robin Mamolou, a woman from Roslyn who browsed the Willow Grove Sears store with her husband, Paul.

“We’ve been coming here since the mall opened,” he added. “Previously, Sears was one of our favorite stores. We bought a lot of clothes here. We are sad about it.

Founded in 1893 as Sears Roebuck and Co., the business has grown in part thanks to its catalog containing hundreds of pages of products and merchandise such as Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools. In 1943, Sears wrote that the thick catalog “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians the desires, habits, customs and way of life of today.”

As the catalog took off, Chicago-based energy brokers at Sears chose Philadelphia “as the center of a wheel in which 40 million people reside,” as one reporter put it, and constructed a building. in neo-Gothic brick with a 14-story clock tower. like a mail order house on Roosevelt Boulevard near Adams Avenue. Sears saw it become its second largest plant. In 1926, 126 American postal workers handled mail there.

When the catalog ceased publication in 1993, Sears also closed the Philadelphia operations. In 1994, a developer imploded the complex. A YouTube video of the teardown continues, with the commentator saying nine million bricks collapsed in the rubble.

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Sears, however, still had a lot of life: mall stores and 26 million credit card accounts. Globally, Sears businesses employed 325,000 people. Sears operated stores in Philadelphia as well as the Oxford Valley, Deptford, Moorestown, Neshaminy and King of Prussia malls, all of which are now defunct.

“I’m still shocked that Sears is where they are now,” said Fred B. Hurvitz, professor of retail studies at Penn State University School of Business. As late as the mid-1990s, the company had 800 large and medium-sized stores and 65 million square feet of retail space.

“When my wife and I first got together, we furnished our room with Sears products. They got a payout [payment] plan and it was good mid-range merchandise and it was reliable, ”said Hurvitz. Among the legendary house brands of Sears were Kenmore and Craftsman.

Sears couldn’t possibly compete with Walmart, Hurvitz said.

Eddie Lampert, a billionaire hedge fund operator who Business Week magazine described as “the next Warren Buffett,” merged Kmart and Sears in 2005.

But the marriage was doomed when Lampert failed to invest in Sears’ core business, analysts said.

Sears divested itself of valuable assets, ceding Land’s End in 2014 and selling Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker in 2017. After years of decline, Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and the company’s assets – stores and other real estate – were acquired by Transformco, a private company affiliated with Lampert.

As Sears closes its last store in Illinois, Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, told a Chicago TV station, “None of us are surprised this is. is certainly another sign of the evolving nature of retailing, but most of it has to do with Sears itself and the decisions they’ve made. But I think we have to be sad and we have to remember how this was an iconic brand, not only national but international, and the generations it spanned.

Transformco’s strategy for Sears and Kmart is to operate a diverse portfolio of a small number of leading department stores with a greater number of small format stores, a Transformco spokesperson said in an email. . The company continues to operate its small Hometown and Home & Life stores, which are mostly independent or franchised.

Sears still lists four department stores in Pennsylvania on its website: Harrisburg, Camp Hill, Media, and Willow Grove. The Harrisburg store closed this month, and the Granite Run Mall’s Media store answering machine says the store has also closed. Sears, in a September statement, says the Camp Hill store remains open. A phone call went to voicemail.

Vicki Howard, author of From Main Street to the Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store, said Sears has played a big role in US commerce.

In the past, many small towns typically had a JCPenney, Sears, independent department store, five-and-dime, and grocer in a community, she said.

“Sears was one of the great developers of suburban malls,” Howard said. “Their real estate assets are the reason they’ve hung on for so long. They were really everywhere.

Howard noted that Sears stopped publishing its catalog just before the Internet and e-commerce. If Sears had kept its catalog, Howard said, its transition online would have been easier.


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