With Sears closing, what’s next for the Upper Valley Mall?

Sears announced the closing of the Springfield store Friday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Sears announced the closing of the Springfield store Friday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Sears Holdings said Friday it will close its Upper Valley Mall store and 79 other U.S. locations, shuttering the last remaining big-box anchor at a mall that has drawn shoppers to Clark County since the early 1970s.

The Upper Valley Mall had been the hub of retail in Clark County for decades, but has watched as longtime anchors like J.C. Penney and Macy’s, along with numerous smaller chains have closed down over the past several years. Local residents and business owners with stores remaining in the mall said Sears’ closing wasn’t surprising but it’s still tough to watch the last remaining national anchor go dark.

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The closures announced Friday are just the latest of the hundreds of locations the historic chain has already said will close this year. Some local officials said the announcement finally provides some closure, as local residents have watched the mall struggle for the past several years.

“It helps to have a conclusion to an era,” said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director for German Twp. “Hopefully it opens us up to what comes next.”

RELATED: Upper Valley Mall sold to land bank

The Upper Valley Mall location was the only Sears store remaining in the region before Friday’s announcement. Liquidation sales at the Springfield Sears will begin within two weeks and the store is expected to close in late March. The Auto Center will close in late January.

The Piqua Sears store is set to close in February and locations at both the Mall at Fairfield Commons and Dayton Mall stores have already closed. Nationally, slightly more than 300 stores have been announced to close since this summer. Among the Sears and Kmart stores on the newest list, stores in Cleveland, Fostoria and two in Columbus also got the ax in Ohio.

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Sears faced a bankruptcy court deadline Friday for bidders to submit offers for its assets. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October and wanted to sell more than 500 of its remaining stores to keep them running.

Degenhart said Springfield’s Sears had some assets that helped it remain open longer than other locations. Sears owned its property at the Upper Valley Mall and the site also included an auto center.

“When our store closes with the assets they had, that tells you a lot about the whole thing,” Degenhart said of the retailer’s struggles.

READ MORE: Clark County land bank to buy old Macy’s at Upper Valley Mall

The Clark County Land Reutilization Corp. already owned property previously owned by Macy’s after purchasing that site in 2017 for about $200,000. The county land bank later purchased 40 remaining acres at the Upper Valley Mall for slightly more than $3 million, an early step in a plan to find a new use for the property. That acquisition did not include the Sears site.

The land bank is continuing negotiations with a potential new investor who has expressed interest in the mall site, said Michael Cooper, a spokesman for the county. Those negotiations are ongoing.

“We’re disappointed to hear about the closing of the Sears location at the Upper Valley Mall,” Cooper said. “The store served as a retail anchor for many years. We’re still deep in negotiations with a developer to breathe new life into the Upper Valley Mall complex.”

Residents said Friday’s announcement wasn’t a surprise, but it’s still been difficult watching the mall’s gradual decline.

“It seems like malls only survive in larger cities,” said Scott Kelley, who was shopping at the mall Friday with his mother Karen.

Kelley said some of the mall’s remaining stores are still viable, but with no anchors remaining there’s not enough reason for shoppers to make a special trip to the mall. He said he thinks some of the remaining stores could be successful elsewhere.

“I honestly knew it was going to close,” he said. “This mall is dying in general.”

The mall was valued at around $20 million several years ago but slipped into receivership after former owner Simon Management Associates defaulted on a $47 million loan. New Upper Valley Associates LLC purchased the property at 1475 Upper Valley Pike for $2.65 million in December 2015, according to property transfer records. Since then, the mall has typically tried to attract small, local businesses to fill vacancies left by national brands that either closed their locations or moved to Bechtle Avenue.

Some business owners in the mall also said they’re concerned that without Sears there won’t be enough foot traffic for their own stores. Lori McConaha opened Knockerball Plus in the mall about a year ago. The store allows customers to step inside inflatable balls and play games like human pool and foosball.

Each store that has left the mall has made it tougher on her business, McConaha said. With Sears likely gone, she said her business needs some support or it will close too.

“It’s affected us with all the stores leaving,” McConaha said. “We’re definitely worse off this year than we were last year.”

Donald Peters opened the Emporium with his wife about five years ago. The store sells vintage and handcrafted items. He said the store has its own following of loyal customers, but it’s too early to say what impact Sears closing will have. Many independent business owners at the mall are waiting with little information while the county negotiates the mall’s future, he said.

The Emporium’s lease ends next Spring,

“The only thing we can do is ride it out until then and see what they say to me after that,” Peters said.

By the numbers:

80 — Stores included in Sears’ announcement Friday

1971 — Year the Upper Valley Mall opened

308 — Stores Sears said would close since this summer