By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Jan. 22, 2018 | 11:20 a.m.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS – In the 1980s and 1990s, stores like Sears, Kmart, and other department store chains were virtual hubs of activity where you could get almost everything you need in a single trip to the sprawling stores that served as anchors to malls and shopping centers across America.
Flash forward to 2018 and the retail landscape continues to change as it’s not uncommon to see those stores shoppers flocked to decades earlier sit as shells of their former selves with locked doors, missing signage, and empty parking lots as businesses make the tough decision to shutter brick-and-mortar stores to save their business.
That economic reality has found its way to Colonial Heights and the Sears store in Southpark Mall as this week marks the final week of sales inside the store that has served as an anchor to the mall since its opening in 1989.
In November of last year, Sears Holdings announced that the Colonial Heights store would be among 63 Sears and Kmart stores that would be closing their doors this month. In a memo, the company laid out the financial position they are in that forced them to make the decision to close one of Southpark Mall’s anchor stores.
“Sears Holdings continues its strategic assessment of the productivity of our Kmart and Sears store base and will continue to right size our store footprint in number and size.”
That memo went on to say, “In the process, as previously announced we will continue to close some unprofitable stores as we transform our business model so that our physical store footprint and our digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members.”
In the days following Sears’ announcements, right on the heels of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the Colonial Heights Sears store, given it was in the midst of a liquidation, did not take part in many of the sales and promotions of the Christmas season and instead saw many products, down to the store’s fixtures themselves get sold off at slashed prices.
Leading into the final weekend of the store’s operations, much of the store’s merchandise had been consolidated onto racks and shelves around the sole checkout station running in the store, with much of the sales floor barren and devoid of the usual clothes, apparel, and tools most shoppers were accustomed to seeing during Sears’ stronger financial days.
Through the 2000s, Sears Holdings struggled to find its footing following its acquisition of competitor Kmart and, facing challenges from online marketplace giant Amazon and the dual threat from brick-and-mortar shops Target and Walmart, the company began closing stores that were not performing well over the course of the 2010s.
Those closures crept closer to the Tri-Cities and eventually arrived in 2015 when the Kmart store in the Southgate Square shopping center closed its doors during the first quarter of the year. In the shadows of the Sears store nearby, the Kmart was torn down and later became a Burlington Coat Factory store with a smaller footprint than the Kmart store that preceded it.
The next year, the Kmart store along Jefferson Davis Highway in Chester was closed, followed by the Sears store later this month.
In total, five stores, four Kmarts, including a Richmond location along Nine Mile Road, and the Southpark Mall Sears store, are closing in the Commonwealth by the end of January. The auto centers in the affected stores closed in December, including the Colonial Heights store.
With the store expected to be closed by the end of the month, bright yellow signs adorn the now-empty walls of the Sears store advising customers that all sales are final and manufacturer’s warranties are in effect but returns will not be accepted.
It is too early to say what will move into the massive anchor space that will be left by Sears once the business closes by February. With mall operators trying to find ways to drive traffic into their buildings as people shift more and more to online shopping thanks to services like Amazon Prime, filling large anchor spaces can be challenging and require unique solutions.
More malls are looking at adding different experiences in an effort to get people through the doors, such as gyms and other non-traditional uses. In a 2017 CNBC report, David Simon, CEO of Simon, one of America’s leading mall operators, spoke to the challenges mall operators are seeing in this new retail landscape.
“I think, as things have changed, we now consider ourselves as a — we’re going to have more mixed-use opportunities,” Simon remarked to investors on a recent call. “But we’re not running away from the mall business.”
From renovations to the addition of gyms and other amenities that will draw shoppers to an area for longer and hopefully open their wallets, Simon and other mall operators are thinking outside of the box of trying to get people to come inside their malls.
That trend is on display at Southpark Mall, operated by CBL Properties as the mall opened their first gym in Planet Fitness, which sits in the former home of now-defunct Piccadilly Cafeteria through the past footprint of a For Your Entertainment store and other smaller shops, and in the way the former Dillard’s space on the opposite side of the mall was filled when they closed in 2012.
Instead of seeking a tenant to fill the entire anchor space on its own, the new anchor, Dick’s Sporting Goods instead fills a large portion of the space, with three new retail spaces with outside access built onto the remaining space, becoming home to discount store Five Below and restaurants IHOP Express and Firehouse Subs.
With Sears soon to be closed, company officials said, “Eligible associates impacted by these store closures will receive severance and will have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Kmart or Sears stores.”
A check of Kmart’s store locator system shows only two Kmart stores within 50 miles of their former home in Colonial Heights, with one being the soon-to-close location in Richmond and a second store located in Williamsburg.
In regards to Sears stores, they list three locations within 50 miles including the closing Colonial Heights store, one in Richmond at Chesterfield Towne Center and one in Glen Allen at Virginia Center Commons mall.
Following the November announcement, Sears Holdings announced another wave of closures with over 100 stores facing the same fate as the Colonial Heights store, a looming end of operations come this Spring.
In total, according to Business Insider, following the recently announced closures, Sears holdings will have less than 950 stores, down from the over 3,500 they operated just six years prior.