MARY ESTHER — Sears at the Santa Rosa Mall in Mary Esther is one of the 142 stores that will close following the company's decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday.
Sears, which has been located at the Santa Rosa Mall since moving from Fort Walton Square (now Uptown Station) in 1976, will close near the end of the year. Liquidation sales are expected to begin shortly, according to news reports.
Sears Holdings will close 77 Sears stores and 65 Kmart stores. That's in addition to the closure of 46 unprofitable stores that had already been announced.
There are no reports of the Kmart off Eglin Parkway closing.
The question now is whether a smaller version of the company that once towered over the American retail landscape can be viable. Sears, which started as a mail order catalog in the 1880s, has been on a slow march toward extinction as it lagged far behind its peers and incurred huge losses over the years.
At its peak, the operator of Sears and Kmart had 4,000 stores in 2012 but will now be left with a little 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The company has struggled with outdated stores and complaints about customer service even for its once crown jewels: major appliances like washers and dryers.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.
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's negotiating an additional $300 million loan from Lampert's ESL Hedge fund.
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.
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.