Up to 120 Sears, Kmart stores will close

Staff/wire report


Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores to raise cash after a weak holiday shopping season for the retailer.

The closings fueled speculation about whether the 125-year-old retailer can turn itself around.

Sears has yet to determine which stores will close but said it will post on www.searsmedia.com when a final list is compiled. The company would not discuss how many, if any, jobs would be cut.

There are Sears locations in Boardman, Austintown, Niles, Hermitage, Pa., and New Castle, Pa., according to the company’s website.

A Southern Park Mall representative told The Vindicator its Sears location is “definitely safe.”

Ken Kollar, general manager at Eastwood Mall, said Tuesday morning that he had not heard details of closings, but said that he would be “somewhat surprised” if the Niles location is slated for closure.

A Shenango Valley Mall representative, as of Tuesday morning, had not heard of any specific closings.

There are Kmart locations in Austintown, Boardman, Warren, East Liverpool, Hermitage, Pa., New Castle, Pa., and Beaver Falls, Pa.

The closings are the latest and most visible in a long series of moves to try to fix a company that has struggled with falling sales and shabby stores as rivals such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. spruced up their looks and turned into one-stop shopping sources.

Billionaire investor Edward Lampert purchased Kmart out of bankruptcy in 2003 and bought Sears, Roebuck & Co. a year later.

Since 2004, Sears Holdings — which operates both Kmart and Sears stores — has watched its cash and short-term investments go from about $2.09 billion for the year ended Jan. 31, 2004, to $1.34 billion for the year ended Jan. 31, 2011, according to FactSet.

The figure stands at about $700 million.

Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter says the softer-than-expected holiday sales performance point to “deepening problems at this struggling chain and renewed worries about Sears survivability.”

Some industry experts say part of the problem Sears is facing is that economic difficulties continue to grip its core customers.

These middle-income shoppers have seen their wages fail to keep up with higher costs for household basics such as food.

But the bigger issue, analysts say, is that Sears hasn’t invested in remodeling, leaving its stores uninviting.

Sears Holdings said Tuesday that revenue at stores open at least a year fell 5.2 percent for the quarter-to-date at both Sears and Kmart. The company said that the store closings will generate $140 million to $170 million in cash from inventory sales. It expects the sale or sublease of real-estate holdings to add more cash.

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