MERIDEN — The Sears and Sears Auto Center locations at the Westfield Meriden mall will close early next year, the troubled retailer announced Thursday.
The latest news follows an October Chapter 11 bankruptcy notice and announcement that 142 Sears and Kmart stores, including two in Milford and Waterford, would close.
This latest round of closures includes the Meriden store and 40 others that will shutter in February 2019. The chain has 700 Sears and Kmart locations.
Liquidation sales are expected to begin late next week.
Sears continues to secure the money it needs to stay in business long enough until it can find a potential buyer to avoid liquidation. It has several loans and is trying to negotiate another, according to media reports.
The Meriden store and auto center are owned by a trust Sears created earlier this year for the company’s real estate. According to court filings, Sears has between $4 billion to $10 billion of value in real estate and leaseholds. The asset value helped stave off a total liquidation.
Craig Johnson, of Customer Growth Partners, said last month the Meriden store was among those that needed to be evaluated. Stock analysts want to see Sears unload Kmart and scale its stores down to 300 to 350 premiere locations because of its real estate value.
Sears closures have drawn mixed reaction from mall owners who haven’t seen the anchor chain draw much traffic in recent years. Scaling down the store size to accommodate newer brands could benefit medium-sized malls, Johnson said.
According to the company statement, Sears employees were notified Thursday.
Westfield Meriden representatives could not be reached for comment. The Westfield mall company sold for $15.7 billion in December to French property investor Unibail Rodamco. The mall name did not change and Westfield’s chairman Frank Lowy, sits on the advisory board.
Sean Moore, president of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce, said the closure surprised him given that the mall was under new ownership.
“I would have thought that was a sign that would have appealed to Sears,” Moore said. “It is a mall going through some transition.”
Several years ago, the mall faced another large vacancy when JC Penney closed. But it rebounded quickly when Boscov’s department store moved into the space and brought new traffic.
Moore said the fact that Sears owns the space means mall owners aren’t constrained by a traditional lease and retail might not be its best use.
“Frankly something in the entertainment arena could fill that space,” Moore said. “A theater, or a restaurant, more of a destination site could bring some good uses.”
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