Sears closing challenges mall and shoppers
The vacant Gander Mountain store at Dowlen Road and Eastex Freeway will soon be filled by an Aldi grocery store, so kudos to all involved. Will the owners of Central Mall in Port Arthur be as fortunate with their soon-to-be vacated Sears site? We’ll find out this summer.
Sears announced the closing of that site in December after it had survived several scares. The Sears store in Parkdale Mall is still open, and this week a bankruptcy judge gave Sears Holdings owner Eddie Lampert one last chance to save the retail icon.
But Central Mall will have to fill an anchor site soon, and it will be tough.
Back in the day, when a store left a mall, owners just plugged in another. It’s clearly not like that now, ever since Jeff Bezos started becoming the richest man in the world with a garage startup known as Amazon. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
You have, of course. Online shopping with Amazon and other web wizards has transformed commerce in this country, and stunned almost every retailer in the process. More and more shopping is done over the internet, which is why mom-and-pop shops and even giants like Sears are struggling.
That’s a double-whammy for vacancies like the upcoming one in Central Mall. There are fewer retailers in general, and even fewer big players left to fill a big gap.
When malls have gaping holes like that, it looks bad and contributes to the downward momentum. At Central Mall, the Sears store is on the north end facing FM 365. You can’t miss it, and that visibility could make it attractive for a new tenant. Some malls are thinking out of the big box for these openings with a Pilates studio or adult education center, since they have good parking and access. If it boosts foot traffic, it’s a good idea.
Fortunately for Central Mall, it does have a JCPenney and Target outlet at the south end. That’s the part that faces U.S. 69, so the visual is still positive from that perspective.
Target seems to be in reasonable shape for a huge retailer, though it’s hardly booming. JCPenney is struggling like Sears, and recently announced it would stop selling big appliances — which it started doing to try to reverse its internet-induced slide.
But refrigerators, washers and dryers take up a lot of floor space, and you go shopping for them every five or 10 years at the most. If that was the only lure that would get you into a Penney’s store, it wasn’t happening often enough.
At Central Mall, JCPenney still has a big red banner on the south wall proudly proclaiming, “We sell appliances.” That will have to come down.
I’ve lived in Mid-County for years and spent many a retail dollar at Central Mall — and Sears, for that matter. Central Mall doesn’t have the depth and breadth of Parkdale Mall, so if you’re planning a long shopping expedition, you’re probably heading there. But Central Mall also doesn’t have the congestion of Dowlen Road. It’s easy to get in and out of, and you can walk from one end to the other in a few minutes.
I visited the mall last weekend, and it had shoppers and walkers. It wasn’t jam-packed, but it wasn’t desolate either. The play area for kids is a nice touch that is well-used, and most retail sites are filled.
The Sears store had some enticing markdowns, such as 50 percent off mattresses, 35 percent off ranges and 30 percent off table saws and riding mowers. If you’re looking for a bargain, check it out.
Unfortunately, the north end by Sears already has two other smaller vacancies. When Sears locks its doors, it might be better to close off that section until the gaps are filled.
The Sears store will close March 10 and then need a couple of weeks to clear out remaining inventory and equipment. A mall spokesman said there are no prospects now to fill the site, but they are hoping for leads at a big convention in Las Vegas in May. Even then, it would be the summer at the earliest before cash registers were humming again there.
The coming closure will be a big change for Mid-County. Sears had anchored that north end since 1982, when the mall opened. In the ’80s and ’90s, it would have been hard to imagine it closing one day. The day has unfortunately come. As a Mid-County dweller, I hope the mall overcomes this hurdle, and hangs on. I’ll drop by now and then; if enough other shoppers do, it just might.