A shopper leaves the Cook’s Corner Sears, located at 8 Gurnet Road, on Tuesday morning. The department store will close in April, according to town officials. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Sears, the anchor tenant of the Cook’s Corner mall in Brunswick, will liquidate and close in mid-April, Sally Costello, the town’s economic and community development director, confirmed Tuesday. 

The closure, one of more than 80 Sears announced within the past few weeks, will leave the South Portland location as the last Maine remnant of what was once the largest retailer in the country. 

A spokesperson for Sears declined to comment on the decision to close the Brunswick location or reveal how many employees would be impacted. 

USA Today reported last month that Sears and Kmart, now owned by private company Transform Holdco LLC, have closed more than 3,500 stores and cut roughly 250,000 jobs in the past 15 years. The Bangor and Augusta Sears both shuttered in the past two years, and Maine’s last two Kmart locations closed in late 2019.

Sears’ departure will leave a large hole in the Brunswick shopping landscape, as it vacates an 82,000-square-foot space.  

“We’re going to work hard to get somebody there who’s a really good addition to Brunswick, and not have a vacant building for too long,” Costello said. 

The space is owned by Katz Properties of New York, which purchased the mall for about $13.25 million in 2016. The property at 8 Gurnet Road, encompassing Sears, Dollar Tree, Big Lots, TJ Maxx, Staples and soon a 50,000-square-foot Hannaford, is valued at just over $17 million, according to town property records. The entire stretch accounts for about $341,000 in annual property tax revenue. 

Sears will still have an active lease on the property for some time, Costello said, so Katz officials will have to work with Sears to find a new tenant for the large space, or perhaps break it up into multiple units. 

“Our biggest fear is that they don’t do anything with it,” she said, “but (Katz) seemed very confident and is not afraid to take this on.” 

Sears joins Bath and Body Works, Olympia Sports, Kim’s Hallmark, Book Land, Radio Shack and Lamey Wellehan in a long list of companies departing from the Cook’s Corner mall within the past decade, something Costello attributes not only to the closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the 2008 recession, but also to a previous lack of investment in the site. 

Since Katz’s purchase in 2016, Costello said there has been some movement toward change, as evidenced by the construction on Hannaford — expected to open next year — and the relocation of Staples, which should be in its new home (just a few doors down in the same shopping mall) next month. 

More than anything, the parking areas need to be cleaned up, Costello said, calling the current layout “non-functional” and “not all that inviting.” 

“It needs a little investment to draw in quality tenants,” she said, “a little bit more love.”

The town may look into some public-private partnerships to improve streetscaping and increasing urban design standards to attract some of those tenants, she said.

“We’d love to see some of these other retailers like Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to bring in a different kind of tenant mix, but we have to provide them with places that are functional, and some of our existing spaces aren’t functional for what they need.” 

Plus, as people begin looking for more of a retail experience instead of traditional shopping, “a lot of these malls are becoming obsolete,” she said.

Sears’ closure, while an unfortunate sign of the times, is also an opportunity for more development in Cook’s Corner. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see how things evolve, because they’re definitely changing,” she said.

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