The Sears store in Waco will close in late March, a casualty of yet another cost-cutting move by the iconic retailer that helped shape American buying habits but has lost $11.7 billion since 2010 and shuttered 3,500 Kmart- and Sears-branded locations as it tried to stop the flow of red ink.
The Sears store in Richland Mall opened in 1980 as an anchor for Waco’s new retail center at Waco Drive and State Highway 6. It is the largest mall occupant, sprawling across two levels and 157,000 square feet linked by an escalator and including an auto center near the outside entrance.
Sears Holdings Corp. on Friday included Waco in its list of 80 Sears and Kmart properties it will shutter. Others on the hit list include Sears stores in Abilene, Amarillo, Killeen, Plano, Port Arthur and Richardson.
A visit to Waco’s Sears store at mid-afternoon Friday revealed a scarcity of shoppers and staffers. Several cardboard display bins in the Craftsman tools area stood empty. Clothes and shoes were discounted up to 50 percent, as the store was in the midst of its semi-annual blowout event.
“Sears Roebuck established 1893, 125 years,” said a sign or two, including one hanging above the store’s mall entrance. Customers moving from the Sears premises to the common area encountered the aroma of pizza from Italia Express, a Dippin Dots kiosk serving “the ice cream of the future,” 20-minute foot massages for $22 at Relax Station, and youngsters being strapped into harnesses for high flying and soft bouncing at Vertical Reality.
Richland Mall, like others nationwide, has evolved. Unfortunately, Sears has not, shoppers who paused to reflect on the company’s demise said.
Becky Rinehart, 70, leaning gently against a jewelry display case, recalled her youth in Akron, Ohio, and bus rides downtown. The Sears store could be counted on to have a beautiful holiday display in the window. Santa Claus might be seated inside, waving and watching as a toy train circled.
She has lived on-and-off in Central Texas as work and family obligations dictated.
“The past 40 years, I bought everything at Sears: washers, dryers, lawn mowers, jewelry, clothes for my grandkids. … Then it all went to Hades,” Rinehart said.
Calls to Waco’s Sears store on Friday were not returned.
Sears’ space in Waco is not owned by CBL Properties, the company that owns Richland Mall, CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating wrote in an email. CBL will work with the owner to find a new use, Keating said.
“We have been monitoring the situation with Sears very closely and are in the process of evaluating contingency plans for every property in our portfolio with a Sears location,” she said last month, when another round of Sears closures were in the headlines.
Ownership of space
The McLennan County Appraisal District places the taxable value of the Sears space at $6.02 million. Tax records show that as of July 12, it was owned by Dillard Texas Central LLC, a Fort Worth-based subsidiary of Dillard’s Properties Inc., the corporate parent of the Dillard’s department store chain with two locations at Richland Mall, including an original anchor store.
Rebecca Meier, 46, said news Sears will close in Waco represents a second dose of bad medicine. She lived in Valley Mills and Axtell before her husband’s job necessitated a move to Mississippi and was back in Central Texas for the holidays.
“We showed up at the Sears store nearest Ellisville, Mississippi, needing a front-end alignment and found out the hard way the store had closed,” Meier said. “I’ve always shopped Sears for tools and parts. Now I have no idea where I’m going to find parts for my lawn mower. Department stores are going by the wayside. All we have now are megastores that sell everything, including groceries.”
The most recent round of closings includes the Sears store in the massive Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Richland Mall manager Rosie Bean declined comment about the closing.
Melvin Schuetz, assistant to the curators at the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum at Baylor University, said news of the closing saddens him.
“As a young child, I fondly remember going with my parents to the Sears store on Waco Drive over 60 years ago,” he wrote in an email. “As an adult, I have shopped frequently at the mall location. Our present washer and dryer, refrigerator, range, and microwave are all from Sears. I understand the economic reasons for their closing but am sorry to see them go.”