AUGUSTA — The Sears store in the Turnpike Mall in Augusta is scheduled to close in March, one of 42 locations nationwide being shuttered because they have struggled financially.
The troubled national retailer has announced two rounds of closures at Sears and Kmart stores in the last two weeks. In Maine, the Kmart in Bangor is also on the list, but the Augusta Kmart is not. On Thursday, Nancy Belasquez said she learned the store will close when she stopped at Sears to buy a vacuum cleaner.
“I had to buy the floor model because they didn’t have any others,” said Belasquez, 62. She was advised to look online for information about servicing her vacuum and was directed to the Sears store in Brunswick for anything else.
“They said the rent went up too high,” she said.
The store, at 10 Whitten Road, anchors the north end of the mall, which also features Christmas Tree Shops; Bed, Bath & Beyond; TJ Maxx; and PetCo.
While the store was open Thursday, the Sears Auto Center was closed and dark. A “now hiring” sign remained on the front of the building.
The local Sears store manager said Thursday morning she could not comment on the situation, and she referred all calls to Sears’ corporate office.
Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings, said via email Thursday that the decision to close stores is a difficult but necessary step.
“Many of these stores have struggled with their financial performance for years, and we have kept them open to maintain local jobs and in the hopes that they would turn around,” he said. “But in order to meet our objective of returning to profitability, we have to make tough decisions and will continue to do so, which will give our better-performing stores a chance at success.”
A news release posted on the corporate website indicates the retailer announced the closure of 150 “non-profitable stores” which includes 108 Kmart stores and 42 Sears locations. In addition, they are taking other steps such as selling the Craftsman tool business for $775 million. The company is planning to shift away from store-based sales and an “asset-intense” business model to one that is focused on membership and is “asset-light.”
“We are taking strong, decisive actions today to stabilize the company and improve our financial flexibility in what remains a challenging retail environment,” said Edward S. Lampert, chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings, in the news release dated Thursday. “We are committed to improving short-term operating performance in order to achieve our long-term transformation.”
The list of store closures indicates that employees were notified Wednesday “that their stores would be closing this spring.” The Augusta store is listed as one that will close at the end of March.
It’s not immediately apparent how many people are employed at the Augusta Sears. Riefs said the number of store workers — most of whom are part-time or hourly employees — is not publicly available. Eligible store employees will receive severance packages and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at Sears or Kmart stores in the area.
Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said her agency has been in touch with Sears and will provide rapid response services, but nothing has been scheduled yet.
Belasquez said she was disappointed to hear the news, because the Augusta Sears is convenient for her, and she’s not likely to venture to Brunswick to shop. She shops at Sears for the appliances, and sometimes for Christmas presents and clothes for her grandchildren.
The Turnpike Mall has undergone significant change in recent years, with two smaller stores being forced out in June 2015. Maine Made and More and Beverly’s Card and Gift, which were neighbors in the mall, were both told their leases would not be renewed, even though both store owners said they wanted to stay. At that time, the mall property, built in 1967, was divided into at least two parcels with a combined value at more than $20 million.
“It’s not a surprising development,” said Keith Luke, Augusta’s deputy development director. The company has been struggling for more than a decade, since the merger of Kmart and Sears.
But the outlook for Atlantic Retail Properties, the retail real estate company that operates the Turnpike Mall, is not dimmed, he said.
“The vacancy rate in that center is very low,” he said, adding that its tenants are the kind that other retailers want to be near. “This will give (Atlantic Retail) an opportunity to refresh the location. They’ll have an idea how they want to fill the space.”
Atlantic Retail did not return a call for comment.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632