Company News

Niles Sears Set to Close; Cafaro Courts Tenants

NILES, Ohio — This holiday shopping season will be the last for Sears at the Eastwood Mall, as Sears Holdings Corp. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Customers can continue shopping at the store through the holiday season, after which the store will likely close its doors in January or February, predicted Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co., which owns the Eastwood Mall complex. No formal closing date has been announced, he said.

“It’s not unexpected. It’s something that we’ve been quietly watching for years now,” Bell said.

Sears opened its doors just before the Eastwood Mall’s official grand opening in in 1969, so “it was literally the first store to open here at Eastwood Mall,” Bell noted.

Along with Sears, the company plans to close the Kmart stores at 15891 state Route 170 in East Liverpool, 17840 Bagley Road in Middleburg Heights and 880 Butler St. in Pittsburgh. This is the second such announcement from Sears Holdings this year. In April, the company announced the closing of the Sears store at the Southern Park Mall in Boardman, following the closures of Kmarts in Warren and Hermitage, Pa. in January.

Cafaro Co. in talks with other entities interested in taking over the 155,000-square-foot Sears store in Niles, which includes the Sears Auto Center, Bell said. The company is “making good progress,” but not yet in a position to sign a lease agreement.

The company holds more than 50 properties and more than 30 million square feet of commercial space in 14 states. It has six Sears stores in its portfolio and has seen interest in those properties from other retailers, as well as restaurants and educational entities, according to Bell.

“Predominantly we’re talking with entities in retail, but we’re completely open to mixing that with other types of business,” Bell said. “That’s the way mall development has been going in recent years.”

As more retailers opt for a smaller footprint, Bell expects the Sears at Eastwood will “most likely be a combination of something,” he said.

Cafaro properties have seen plenty of changes this year. In the first quarter of 2019, Big Lots will move its store at 5796 Youngstown-Warren Road in Niles to the former Toys R Us at 5555 Youngstown-Warren Road. In June, At Home opened in its 90,000-square-foot store in the Eastwood Mall Complex.

The company is in talks with a national entity for the vacant Kmart space, but Bell couldn’t comment further. In August, it was reported that Meijer Stores Limited had purchased the 193,749-square-foot space in the Howland Commons portion of the Eastwood Mall Complex, but as of this time, Bell has heard no indication of a finalized deal with Meijer.

The Niles and East Liverpool locations are two of 142 stores that Sears Holdings plans to close, according to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Of the stores listed to be closed, 98 were unprofitable in fiscal year 2017, and 44 either produced flat or marginal profits that year or are trending downward this year.

The liquidation of the assets is expected to bring in $42 million in net proceeds. The actions will also position Sears Holdings to “establish a sustainable capital structure, continue streamlining its operating model and grow profitably for the long term,” according to a company press release.

“Over the last several years, we have worked hard to transform our business and unlock the value of our assets,” said Edward S. Lampert, chairman of Sears Holdings. “While we have made progress, the plan has yet to deliver the results we have desired and addressing the company’s immediate liquidity needs has impacted our efforts to become a profitable and more competitive retailer.

Effective immediately, Lampert has stepped down as the company’s CEO, but will remain as board chairman, the release stated. The office of the CEO will comprise Robert A. Riecker, chief financial officer; Leena Munjal, chief digital officer, customer experience and integrated retail; and Gregory Ladley, president of apparel and footwear.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.