Springfield’s Sears store will remain open after the historic retailer declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Monday and included plans to close more than 140 of its stores nationwide.
Monday’s announcement was the result of what local experts said has been a slow, steady decline in the retail giant’s fortunes.
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Sears is the lone remaining anchor at Springfield's Upper Valley Mall after other longtime anchors like J.C. Penney and Macy's have shuttered their doors over the past several years. Sears said in a news release Monday the company will close 142 unprofitable stores near the end of the year. Springfield's store at 1475 Upper Valley Pike was not included on that list, but the chain said it will close Ohio locations in East Liverpool and Middleburg Heights. Those closures are in addition to 46 other stores Sears said it plans to close by November.
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Company officials did not return a call seeking comment Monday. The firm said in its news release Monday’s announcement was part of an attempt to reorganize the company and save the jobs of “tens of thousands of store associates.”
Monday’s announcement has long been expected as the company has failed to compete with its more innovative and efficient competitors, said Riley Dugan, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Dayton. The retailers that are thriving are typically ones that can offer an experience for shoppers beyond simply picking out products in a store or online. Sears and several similar retailers haven’t figured out a way to offer something different to consumers, he said.
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“It’s to the point where as a retail establishment you have to differentiate yourself,” Dugan said.
Sears’ store at the Upper Valley Mall is in an unusual situation, said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director for German Twp.
The mall has been the center of retail in Clark County for much of its history after it first opened in 1971. But the site has faced a challenging retail landscape and watched as longtime anchors like J.C. Penney and Macy’s have closed their doors in recent years. Other longtime tenants like MC Sports and the Upper Valley Mall Cinema 5 location have also closed in recent years.
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The Clark County Land Reutilization Corp. purchased 40 acres at the Upper Valley Mall for slightly more than $3 million earlier this year and are negotiating with a potential developer to breathe new life into the property. But Sears still owns its property at the mall, even as most other tenants have leased their space.
“I believe that’s what’s keeping the store open longer than most,” Degenhart said of the Springfield Sears.
The Clark County Reutilization Corp., also known as the land bank, is working with a private developer to find a new potential use for the Upper Valley mall property. Tom Hale, executive director for the Clark County Land Reutilization Corp., could not be reached for comment Monday.
Midscale retail firms that can’t adapt to changes in consumer demand are likely to go extinct, said Steve Hortwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University.
“The problem facing Sears, and that will face other similar retailers who cannot solve it, was that it got squeezed from at least three different sides,” Horwitz said. “First, it could not provide the range of products and service in any one narrower category as did large firms like Best Buy. Second, it could not provide the low prices of firms like Walmart, nor did it offer things like groceries to expand the range of customers who walked in the door. Third, they did not capitalize on the need for online retailing with the convenience and breadth of an Amazon.”
Dugan said Sears was at a competitive disadvantage as it tried to compete with retailers like Walmart, who had a larger physical footprint and significantly more efficient operations. He said chains like Walmart have succeeded in part by wringing inefficiencies out of their operations and passing savings on to customers. But Sears had a smaller concentration of stores and has failed to keep pace as others have adopted new technologies to find more efficient, less costly ways to warehouse and distribute products to consumers.
“It’s really kind of a race to the bottom for the prices they can offer,” Dugan said.
Sears have long served as key tenants that helped draw foot traffic to other smaller stores at malls across the U.S., Dugan said. But he said it’s possible that model no longer fits what consumers are looking for. He noted newer retail hubs like the Greene in Beavercreek and Austin Landing in Miami Twp. are increasingly trying to draw customers with movie theaters, bars and restaurants.
A few decades ago, it would have been hard to imagine a company like Sears declaring bankruptcy, but even historic brands eventually die out, Dugan said. The same will happen with some stores most people can’t imagine closing today.
“Probably 20 years from now, we’ll be talking about another iconic store that will close,” he said.
The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of retail and its impact on Clark and Champaign Counties. For this story, the paper spoke to local officials about Sears’ decision to file bankruptcy and what that might mean for the Upper Valley Mall’s lone remaining anchor store.
Facts & Figures:
142 — Number of new Sears stores to close this year
46 — Number of Sears stores already set to close by November
1971 — Year Upper Valley Mall opened
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