Sears files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

No plans for local store

Staff report

NEW YORK (AP) — Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday, with plans to close 142 unprofitable stores in the hopes that it can stay in business.

There are currently no plans for the local Sears store, located in the Miami Valley Centre Mall in Piqua.

Sears Holdings released the list of 142 stores that they plan to close on Monday, and the only Sears expected to close in Ohio as part of this bankruptcy filing is located at 5320 Youngstown Road in Niles. Two Kmart stores will also close in Ohio, including ones located at 15891 State Route 170 in East Liverpool and one at 17840 Bagley Road in Middleburg Heights.

A representative at the local Sears location declined to comment. A corporate representative declined to comment beyond releasing a list of the 142 stores planned to close.

The local Sears store at the Miami Valley Centre Mall, which is owned by Mid-America, opened in 1999. Director of Retail Development for Mid-America William Staebler said on Tuesday that the bankruptcy filing was expected, but they have not heard anything from the local Sears store about any plans to leave the mall.

“We’re hopeful it will stay open,” Staebler said.

The Elder-Beerman store closed its doors at the Miami Valley Centre Mall in August, and Staebler said that they are in the early stages of finding a tenant to fill that spot. He said that they have had inquiries about and interest in that location, citing the visibility near I-75, the support from local government, and the renovated hotel.

“We’re really committed to the mall,” Staebler said.

Sears began as a mail-order catalog in the 1880s. At its peak, the operator of Sears and Kmart had 4,000 stores in 2012, but will now be left with a few more than 500.

The company has struggled with outdated stores and complaints about customer service even for its once crown jewels: major appliances like washers and dryers. That’s in contrast with chains like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy’s, which have been enjoying stronger sales as they benefit from a robust economy and efforts to make the shopping experience more inviting by investing heavily in remodeling and de-cluttering their stores.

Sears Holdings will close 77 Sears stores and 65 Kmart stores near the end of the year and liquidation sales are expected to begin shortly. That’s in addition to the closure of 46 unprofitable stores that had already been announced.

Edward S. Lampert, the company’s largest shareholder, has stepped down as CEO, but will remain chairman of the board. A new Office of the CEO will be responsible for managing day-to-day operations.

The company said Monday it has secured $300 million in financing from banks to keep the operations going through bankruptcy. It is negotiating an additional $300 million loan from Lampert’s ESL Hedge fund.

The filing listed between $1 billion and $10 billion in assets while liabilities range between $10 billion to $50 billion. It listed the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., the federal agency that insures pensions, as Sears’ biggest unsecured creditor, but noted the amount it owed as “unknown,” according to court documents.

Sears joins a growing list of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy or liquidated in the last few years amid a fiercely competitive climate. Some, like Payless ShoeSource, successfully emerged from reorganization in bankruptcy court. But plenty of others like, Toys R Us and Bon-Ton Stores Inc., haven’t. Both retailers were forced to shutter their operations this year soon after Chapter 11 filings.

Given its sheer size, Sears’ bankruptcy filing will have wide ripple effects on everything from already ailing mall landlords to its tens of thousands of workers. But unlike other retailers that have gone bankrupt, there are not a lot of spoils for rivals to pick up. The company, once a big seller of toys, now has a tiny 2 percent market share in that area, according to investment research firm Jefferies. And its market share in major appliances has shrunk to just under 10 percent from 41 percent in 2001, according to Johnson of Customer Growth Partners.

Last year, Sears sold its famous Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker Inc., following earlier moves to spin off pieces of its Sears Hometown and Outlet division and Lands’ End.

Sears’ stock has fallen from about $6 over the past year to below the minimum $1 level that Nasdaq stocks are required to trade in order to remain on the stock index. In April 2007, shares were trading at around $141.

The company, which once had 350,000 workers, has shrunk to 68,000 workers as of Monday’s court filing. It had fewer than 900 stores as of May.

In a March 2017 government filing, Sears said there was “substantial doubt” it would be able to keep its doors open — but insisted its turnaround efforts would mitigate that risk.

For decades, Sears was king of the American shopping landscape. Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s iconic catalog featured items from bicycles to sewing machines to houses, and could generate excitement throughout a household when it arrived. The company began opening retail locations in 1925 and expanded swiftly in suburban malls from the 1950s to 1970s. But the onset of discounters like Walmart created challenges for Sears that have only grown. Sears faced even more competition from online sellers and appliance retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

No plans for local store

Staff report

Sam Wildow contributed to this story.

Sam Wildow contributed to this story.