Sears closes Willow Grove Mall, the last full-service location in Pennsylvania

The Sears department store at Willow Grove Park mall in Montgomery County will end a streak of more than three decades when it closes permanently in the coming months.

The closure will also wipe out the once-dominant department store’s last full-service presence in Pennsylvania, a notable checkpoint in the long-term decline that has seen Sears’ name and workforce fade in the United States. these last years.

A spokesperson for the mall, which is operated by PREIT, confirmed Sears’ impending closure on Tuesday.

Sears opened at Willow Grove Mall in 1987, five years after the high end shopping destination, built on a former amusement park property, had opened. Occupying all three levels of the building, Sears sold a full line of clothing, appliances, home accessories and other products that once helped the company become one of the top retail destinations retail of the country.

Sears also held a significant share of the Philadelphia market, where the department store’s former mail-order center and 14-story clock tower had stood above Roosevelt Boulevard for decades until that the Sears catalog ceased publication in 1993. The building, Sears’ second largest factory, was demolished a year later.

Sears’ decline accelerated when former CEO and Chairman Eddie Lampert merged the company with Kmart in 2005. Both brands began to see their number of stores dwindle as online retail emerged in the following years and that Amazon became a dominant economic force.

When Sears declared bankruptcy in 2018, the company’s workforce had plummeted from a peak of more than 300,000 employees to less than 69,000 full-time and part-time workers worldwide. Its full-service store locations have fallen from a high of more than 3,000 to less than 550, a number that has steadily declined year on year.

The surviving assets of Sears Holdings were bought out of bankruptcy for $5.2 billion by Transformco, a company founded by Lampert with the intention of adapting Sears and Kmart to meet new market realities. The company acquired Sears Hometown and Sears Outlet stores, many of which are small format concepts owned by independent or franchise owners.

Large, full-service Sears stores have disappeared in recent years from malls in the Philadelphia area, including those in King of Prussia, Oxford Valley, Neshaminy and the Deptford and Moorestown malls in South Jersey. Stores in Harrisburg, Media and Camp Hill also closed last year.

Willow Grove is the last one standing in Pennsylvania, but its days are numbered.

PREIT chief marketing officer Karisa Washam said Sears’ departure is not indicative of the overall economic health of Willow Grove Park Mall, which has has renewed its offer in recent years. This includes plans for a Tilted 10 entertainment center, featuring mini-golf, bowling and other games and attractions, which will occupy space that was once part of the JCPenney store which closed in 2017.

“While we are sad to see our long-time tenant close, PREIT has extensive experience in replacing department stores and introducing new-to-market concepts to our portfolio, as evidenced by the upcoming addition of Tilted 10 here in Willow Grove Park and the recent Macy’s box redevelopment at Plymouth Meeting Mall with 5 tenants – Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michael’s, Burlington, Edge Fitness and Miller’s Ale House,” Washam said.

On Tuesday, Transformco said Sears’ closure was part of a plan to “redevelop and reinvigorate the property” and “unleash real estate value.”

Plans for the mall’s Sears space redevelopment will be revealed as they are finalized, but Transformco is excited for the next chapter in Willow Grove.

“Building on the regional appeal of the mall and our current tenant, Primark, there is strong redevelopment potential for this site,” said Scott Carr, president of real estate at Transformco. “We intend to reinvigorate and maximize real estate value to meet the needs of the Willow Grove market.”

The company’s overall strategy for Sears and Kmart stores has been to create a diversified portfolio consisting of a small number of high-profile department stores and a larger number of smaller-format stores, the company said. Hometown stores and Home & Life stores will be explored in cities and towns that previously had department stores, but it’s unclear if either concept is being considered for Willow Grove. .

Over the past few months, Sears in Willow Grove has experienced skyrocketing sales that heralded an imminent closure. The store retains a certain sentimental attachment among those who have watched the mall’s evolution over the years. Those who want to make a final visit should have the opportunity to do so before the store closes for good in early spring. The exact date has not been announced.

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