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Sears will close the last store in Chicago, the city that helped launch its growth to a significant retail presence

Sears opened its first store in Chicago 93 years ago. This summer, it will close its last departmental store in the city.

The embattled retailer reported Thursday to employees at the Six Corners store on the edge of the Portage Park neighborhood that it plans to close in mid-July. With the demise of the store, Chicago is missing a reminder of the heyday of a local company that was once the world's largest retailer.

It's just a store, but its planned closure comes after the company closed nearly a fifth of its US department. UU stores and shed more than 50,000 jobs in 2017. In the past seven years, it has accumulated more than $ 10.8 billion in losses.

A liquidation sale at the store, at the intersection of Milwaukee and Cicero Avenues and Irving Park Road, is scheduled to begin on April 27. The adjacent Sears Auto Center will close in mid-May.

The company declined to say how many employees work at the Six Corners store. Employees will receive severance pay and the opportunity to apply for vacant positions at Sears or Kmart, also owned by Sears Holdings, based at Hoffman Estates.

Customers in the store on Thursday, some of whom said they had been shopping there for decades, I was sad to hear that it would close and I expressed my concern for the employees.

"I'm going to miss this store," said Cecilia Wietrzak, a resident of the Jefferson Park neighborhood she's been buying at Sears since 1975. These days, she goes there to buy cheap pants and slippers for her father.

Elizabeth Cuebas, a great-grandmother who lives in the Uptown neighborhood, said she still buys there regularly for herself and her grandchildren. [19659009] "I was there three times last week," said Cuebas, holding a colorful reusable shopping bag. "That's my store."

But there seem to be fewer buyers like her, said Tom Rogers, who lives nearby and came hoping to find some offers. "These days he does not seem so busy," he said.

Sears had already built a mail order giant from its former headquarters in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago when he launched an experiment that would start a second empire retail: his first store.

The store opened its doors in 1925 at the company's mail order plant in Homan Square, with an optical store and a fountain of soft drinks. Seven more stores followed that year.

The Six Corners store opened on October 20, 1938. A $ 1 million building designed by the architectural firm Chicago Nimmons, Carr & Wright, its only window overlooking the intersection was the largest in the city in that moment, according to Sears.

It was a massive one-stop shop, with a candy store and a pet store along with items that buyers expect to find today in department stores.

But consumers have increasingly changed, first to specialized chains of large boxes and more recently online, the store, although iconic, probably has much more value as real estate, said Neil Stern, senior partner at the consultancy McMillan Doolittle, based in Chicago.

"Even if Sears was very good, he would still wonder if they needed these urban stores, and certainly the size they had," he said.

Stern said he believes the closure could be an opportunity for the Six Corners retail district. The area that was once bustling has undergone a renovation in recent years.

"It's a loss in terms of nostalgia and for the families that grew up buying there, but in terms of what the next generation of buyers is looking for, it's not going to be a Sears," Stern said.

The Six Corners property was one of 265 sold to Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust, when it was separated from Sears in 2015. Sears CEO Edward Lampert is an investor in Seritage and president of the board of the company.

Sears continues to operate many of those stores, but Seritage has begun developing others, including a former Sears in Orland Square Mall.

Seritage's website lists the Six Corners property, including the 127,110-square-foot main building and the 56,180-square-foot car center, available for rent.

Another option could be to demolish the buildings and redevelop the site. The CoStar Group real estate database shows representations of what appear to be new commercial and residential structures built around an enclosed and outdoor area with swimming pool and other amenities. It is not clear if the representations are conceptual or if Seritage already has specific redevelopment plans.

Seritage's leasing broker for the site, CBRE senior vice president Joe Parrott, could not be reached on Thursday for comment.

Conservation Chicago has searched the store and three other remaining Sears buildings in the city considered for the landmark designation. One, in the Ravenswood neighborhood, ran for 90 years and was the chain's oldest store when it closed in 2016.

"I think it would be a double tragedy to lose the retail institution, as well as this really wonderful building", said Conservation Executive Director Ward Miller.

Ald. John Arena, whose crew number 45 includes Six Corners, said he believes there are potential opportunities to use part or all of the existing building in a remodel, but there are no firm plans for the site. In conversations with Seritage, "they understand the iconography of the building and what Six Corners represents," he said.

"It's sad, it's a piece of history, but now we can start to see what we're doing moving forward," Arena said.

The closing of the store in July will not be the end of Sears' presence in the city.

The parent company Sears Holdings Corp. still has about 150 employees in its Loop office. Kmart still has a store in Chicago, and there are Sears stores in North Riverside, Niles, Chicago Ridge, Vernon Hills, Schaumburg and Bloomingdale. The store at the Oakbrook Center closed last summer to renovate and reduce the size. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the renovations.

"For more than 120 years, Sears has called Illinois home and that is not changing," company spokesman Howard Riefs said in a statement sent by email. "Although we are disappointed by the closure of this last store in Chicago, it in no way changes our commitment to our customers and the presence of Chicago residents."

Samantha Bomkamp and Ryan Ori of the Chicago Tribune contributed.


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