Chicago's last Sears to close for good Sunday

Chicago's last Sears to close for good Sunday

Lauren ZumbachContact Reporter July 14, 2018

Mike Lord remembers treating the Sears at Six Corners as a neighborhood hangout when he was a kid.

When his parents pushed to turn off the TV and get outside, he would sneak over to the store’s TV department to watch Cubs games.

“It was my babysitter when I couldn’t get friends together to play ball,” said Lord, 59, who was shopping at the store Friday and still lives a few blocks away.

The Six Corners store, on the edge of Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, will shut its doors for the last time Sunday, two months shy of its 80th anniversary. The closure is part of Sears effort to turn around its business after years of losses and declining sales, but when the store rings up its final sale, the city will lose one more link to a hometown company that used to be the world’s largest retailer.

Plans to redevelop the site already have been announced, but neighbors have seen a redevelopment across the street drag on. They’re waiting to see whether Six Corners, at the intersection of Milwaukee and Cicero avenues and Irving Park Road, can regain its status as a bustling retail district.

At Sears on Friday, ground-floor apparel racks were liberally sprinkled with neon-bright signs touting discounts as steep as 80 percent off. The walls were bare, and the store’s upper and lower levels appeared to have about as much space devoted to selling store fixtures and furniture as merchandise.

Despite the warm memories for shoppers like Lord, the April announcement that the store would close wasn’t a shock for many in the neighborhood. On Friday, more than one visitor looking for going-out-of-business deals or simply paying a final visit to the store said they were surprised it remained open as long as it had.

“It’s too bad, but what are you going to do?” said Ken Little, 63, who grew up in the neighborhood and fondly recalls the store’s candy department.

The Six Corners store, which opened in 1938 in a $1 million building designed by Chicago architecture firm Nimmons, Carr & Wright, is one of the 529 Sears stores that were in operation nationwide as of May 5. Hoffman Estates-based parent company Sears Holdings Corp. still has one Kmart in Chicago and a handful of Sears stores in the suburbs.

Since May, Sears Holdings has announced plans to close 78 more stores after another quarter of losses and slowing sales. The company laid off 200 corporate employees last month, including 150 in Hoffman Estates, following a round of 220 job cuts earlier this year.

News that the days were numbered for Chicago’s last Sears spurred a sense of nostalgia in the neighborhood.

In June, a local business group hosted a farewell event, with tours led by a longtime employee. The store clearly still had fans in the community, said Anna Zolkowski Sobor, a board member with the Old Irving Park Association who attended the event.

Zolkowski Sobor met a woman who, as a kid, sang with her school choir in the store’s display window and couples who said they met while working there.

“It really underscored to me how interwoven that store was in the lives of many people,” she said.

But ask community members when they last shopped there, and most acknowledge it’s been a while, Zolkowski Sobor said.

On one shopping trip before the store’s closure was announced, Little said, he was the only shopper on the store’s lower level. The lone employee on that floor shook his hand when he purchased a bicycle tube and seemed happy to have something to do, he said.

“I knew right there that was not a good sign,” said Little, who now lives about a mile away.

Sears won’t be the only vacancy in the neighborhood. A sign on an empty storefront across the street urges former Sears Optical customers to visit a nearby Pearle Vision.

Meanwhile, a community meeting was held recently to discuss a new proposal for a redevelopment across Irving Park Road from Sears, with 265 senior living units and 50,000 square feet of retail space, including an Aldi.

Community members had questions about the plans, but there’s also excitement about what might come next at both sites, said Kelli Wefenstette, executive director of the Six Corners Association.

“I think Six Corners is ready for the opportunity this (Sears) site presents,” she said.

Highland Park-based Tucker Development and Seritage Growth Properties announced in May that they were partnering to redevelop the Six Corners Sears and another in the Galewood neighborhood that closed last year. Both stores were among the more than 250 properties Sears sold to Seritage, a real estate investment trust, when it was spun off in 2015. Sears CEO Edward Lampert is an investor in Seritage and chairman of its board.

At the time, Tucker and Seritage said they planned to replace the stores with a mix of residential and retail space.

No specific plans have since been issued, said Owen Brugh, chief of staff to Ald. John Arena, 45th, whose ward includes Six Corners.

“It was a well-performing store, by all we knew, but the closing of that Sears has been rumored for a really long time,” Brugh said. “With the closing, we have some finality and we can start moving forward with how it gets redeveloped and contributes to Six Corners and the surrounding community.”

Neighborhood residents said they would welcome more thriving businesses in an area that was once a major retail district, with a Woolworth’s and Sears and the iconic Portage Theater, built in 1920. A Culver’s restaurant and Fischman Public House are among businesses that have opened this year, and four or five more local, independent shops are expected to join, Wefenstette said.

“I think it’s good, but my concern is eventually this area will become more coveted,” Lord said.

But others said they had heard big promises about development before.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be like it used to be,” Little said.


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