Seldom, it would seem, has such a big store looked so empty.
Sears at Richland Mall will close Sunday, ending with a whimper the retailer’s 90-year run in Waco. It joins hundreds of Sears locations nationwide as casualties. The bankrupt retailer that introduced the country to “wish books,” lifetime product guarantees and mail-order homes is leaving the building in Waco.
Metal garment carts, vacant jewelry cases and a smattering of merchandise were dwarfed by the 157,000-square-foot environs Thursday. Floor tiles and carpeting, stains now visible, seemed to roll on for acres. The escalator was not moving. Foot traffic was light.
“Someone should get on the intercom and say, ‘Where were you when we needed you?’ ” one shopper said.
Probably at Walmart or Target or ordering online, according to some who opine about Sears’ demise in a changing marketplace.
Kevin Hannes, 64, went to work at Sears in Richland Mall in 1984, four years after it opened to anchor the new retailing center at Highway 84 and State Highway 6, in what then was practically the outskirts of Waco.
Hannes’ last shift comes Sunday.
“I hate to see it go out this way. It’s really sad,” he said. “I’m just not used to all this open space.”
Sweet success permeated the Sears culture for decades, as inviting as the aroma of buttered popcorn and roasting cashews that greeted crowds a…
The store sold its last mattress, a Stearns & Foster display model, a couple of days earlier. The Chicago-based chain a month ago disconnected the store’s ordering system, so securing fresh stock was not an option, Hannes said.
Back in the 1980s, a job at Sears could launch a career, Hannes said. A salesperson in appliances could make $55,000 to $60,000 a year. Sales commissions and incentives were generous, and Sears offered top-notch benefits, even scholarships, to keep staffers happy and productive.
Perks started to disappear as the retailer faced lean years brought on by massive revenue losses. Hannes, who left Sears for Home Depot and Petco before returning in 2013, pinpointed gaffes he felt contributed to its decline.
The chain that championed the catalog should have more effectively moved into e-commerce, he said. In-store technology lagged, and Sears alienated customers by farming out delivery service to providers who chronically missed appointments and projected arrival times, he said.
In his view, the wheels came off when then CEO of Sears Holdings Eddie Lampert started selling off assets, including the Craftsman tool brand, Hannes said.
“About a year ago we started getting the idea this store was closing,” Hannes said.
The official word came down just days after another dismal holiday shopping season at Sears. The Waco store, which had dodged so many bullets, would be shuttered after liquidation sales. Locations in Killeen, Abilene, Richardson and Plano also pull the plug this month.
But Sears has not yet surrendered. It received a $5.2 billion infusion from Lampert and launched a new line of tools, the Craftsman Ultimate Collection, that targets professional mechanics. But Stanley Black & Decker, which acquired rights to the Craftsman name with a $900 million deal completed in 2017, has filed suit. It claims the collection violates the limited licensing agreement Stanley struck with Sears in the Craftsman deal.
Whatever happens with Sears nationally, Waco is losing its brand.
Dillard’s, meanwhile, has announced it will relocate its women’s, children’s and housewares store in Richland Mall to the Sears location. Dillard’s bought the Sears space in July.
It will maintain its men’s store that operates separately in the mall, Dillard’s spokeswoman Julie Johnson Guymon said last month. The 100,000-square-foot space Dillard’s is leaving will become available for lease.
This week, Guymon provided more specifics about the Arkansas-based retailer’s timeline.
“We are planning to use all the Sears building, exclusive of the tire and battery portion, which will be closed off and not accessible,” she said in an email response to questions about the potential for other users taking part of the Sears space.
“We will completely demolish and remodel the interior of the building to reflect our latest advances in store design,” Guymon said. “Our women’s selections, including footwear, handbags, accessories and beauty, will be located on the ground floor, and our home store will be on the second floor.”
Construction will start this fall, and the new store is expected to open in the spring of next year, she said.
Stacey Keating, spokeswoman for Tennessee-based CBL Properties, which owns Richland Mall, has said CBL will assist Dillard’s with the transition, though Dillard’s owns and controls the Sears space.
Though many consumers have written off Sears as a major player in recent years, Baylor University marketing professor Jim Roberts said its downfall still stings.
“It’s hard to separate Sears and mass marketing,” he said via email. “When Sears dies, a little bit of each of us dies with it. It’s like a favorite uncle you haven’t seen in a while, but you still feel worse off for it when he passes away. At one point in its storied history, it was considered a red-letter day the day the Sears catalog shipped. You could buy everything from canned goods and tools, to wedding dresses and even prefabricated houses back in the day.
“I feel a real loss when I walk by the shell of Sears that remains in Richland Mall. The history of American retailing and Sears are inextricably intertwined. Amazon will likely take its place, but I am not sure it can fulfill the story of the American Dream captured in the story of the once great American institution that was Sears.”
Sears will close in Waco one week after what has been described as a retailing apocalypse, with Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney and Gap announcing store closings nationwide. Richland Mall will not lose its JC Penney or Victoria’s Secret stores, CBL’s Keating said. But a Gap spokeswoman said the chain has not compiled its list of stores to be shuttered.
A Gap store operates at Waco’s Central Texas Marketplace.