The closing of Sears is a heavy blow for Independence Center, but one local business leader sees an opportunity as well.
“It’s an opportunity for (mall owner International Growth Properties) to start reshaping the mall experience, and that’s how malls are surviving – creating more of an experience,” said Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Economic Development Council and the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
The holding company that owns Sears announced late Tuesday that the Independence Center store is one of 21 around the country being closed, along with five Kmart stores.
A liquidation sale is to begin next week, and the auto service center closes by the end of this month. The store is expected to close in October.
Cheryl Meyer, director of marketing and specialty leasing for Independence Center, offered a take similar to Lesnak.
“We see an opportunity to use the Sears building to offer our customers and the community something new and exciting,” Meyer said in a statement. “The evolution of retail is happening nation-wide and we've been taking steps behind the scenes to prepare for new entertainment and retail offerings that are more localized and interactive.”
Raelene Trumm, the mall’s general manager for International Growth Properties, did not return a message Wednesday seeking comment.
Lesnak said Tuesday’s announcement was “just a matter of time” in coming.
“The company, it seems, is basically on borrowed time at this point,” he said. “That’s just kind of the situation we’re in with retail right now, with online sales. Retail stores are kind of changing their model, becoming more of a showcase.”
Sears and Kmart have had several rounds of store closings for years, losing hundreds of stores, but Tuesday’s cuts were the first in 2019.
The company says employees will be offered severance.
Sears has been an anchor store at Independence Center since the mall opened 45 years ago this fall. Homart Development Co., the company that built the mall and ran it before selling it in 1981, was a division of Sears, Roebuck and Co.
The cuts affect what Sears calls its large-format stores. They do not appear to affect its outlet stores such as the one on Front Street in the East Bottoms or its Hometown stores such as the one in Lee’s Summit. Those are the kinds of stores where Sears says it’s putting its focus.
International Growth Properties, based in Los Angeles, bought the mall earlier this year from its bank holders for a reported $57 million. Lesnak has said it’s a promising ownership group, and it will have to negotiate something regarding the Sears space, which Sears owns. IGP could either purchase the space or whichever business might take over the space could buy it.
The Sears closings in Missouri – Independence Center, the Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters and a store in Cape Girardeau – appear to have hit the last three large-format Sears stores in Missouri. The rest of the closings are spread across the country, from California to New York to Puerto Rico.