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Sears needs strong holiday season to avoid liquidation: Great Northern Mall last store in NE Ohio

November 23, 2018

Sears needs strong holiday season to avoid liquidation: Great Northern Mall last store in NE Ohio

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio - Melva Simulcik was among the first shoppers at the Sears store at Great Northern Mall early Friday morning before the rest of the mall opened, and she sounded offended while talking on the phone about one of her favorite places to shop.

“I was just talking to my brother’s girlfriend, and she was surprised that there’s still a Sears left in this area,” said Simulcik, while looking at clothes in a sparse store. “I’ve always shopped at Sears, since I was a child when my parents used to bring me here.”

Simulcik, of Lorain, said she has so many good memories of Sears, except for one as a child, because she never did get her wish of a yellow Volkswagen in the Sears Wish Book. But looking around the fairly empty store on Black Friday morning, she feared it might be her last time shopping at Sears, one of four anchor department stores at the mall.

Sears filed for bankruptcy in October, and its fighting hard not to slip into liquidation. Sears closed its SouthPark Mall location in September, making the Great Northern Mall location the last one in Northeast Ohio.

“I like the quality of the clothes here. It’s always one of my first stops on Black Friday, but I shop here year-round for me and my husband. I’d hate to see Sears close. A lot of stores at the mall just focus on the younger generation, but Sears serves multiples ages from young to old.”

Many retailers ring up a third or more of their sales during the holiday quarter. But for struggling retailers like Sears and other department stores, the pressure is on to earn enough money to support the business so it can simply stay alive.

Last year, similarly challenged Toys R’ Us filed for bankruptcy shortly before the holidays. In March the retailer announced plans to liquidate.

In August, Sears announced plans to close 46 more stores in November, the latest similar announcement for the struggling retailer. During the past five years, the company lost about $5.8 billion, and over the past decade, it shut more than 1,000 stores, leaving about 700 remaining.

Founded shortly after the Civil War, the original Sears, Roebuck & Co. built a catalog business that sold Americans the latest dresses, toys, build-it-yourself houses and even tombstones. Sears was the Amazon of the 1930s. Until 1989 when Walmart surpassed it, Sears had the largest domestic revenue of any retailer in the United States.

Amy Scullin, 53, of North Ridgeville, was shopping for her 4-year-old granddaughter at Sears, and while she was disappointed with the selection of kids clothes, she was happy to discover a hard-to-find snowsuit.

“Actually me and my friends always preferred J.C. Penney over Sears, but that company is struggling too. I get why they started catering more to younger people, and my daughters like the Sephora store in J.C. Penney, but I started shopping more at Sears. It’s really sad that these stores are struggling, because it’s hard to order online. I hate returning things from online shopping.

“But I can see why they’re having a hard time. Look around. It’s time to shop for Christmas and there’s hardly anyone in here.”

Sears store General Manager Bradley Gilbo said the early morning sparse store on Black Friday morning was the exact opposite on Thanksgiving Day when the store closed at midnight.

“Last night the mall was so busy. We had lots of customers. We had some drowsy associates because of turkey, but yesterday was pretty awesome,” he said. Gilbo pointed to Sears circular, and talked about how Black Friday is just not the same anymore, with so many deals offered before the actual day.

“You could get anything in this flyer a week ago, on Sunday. It’s supposed to be a private members event, but we let anybody make purchases. We’ve been doing that for the last few years,” he said.

Ohioans expected to increase holiday spending from last year:

Earlier this week, economic forecasters said they expect Ohio shoppers to increase holiday spending by 3.2 percent over last year. Ohio consumer confidence continues to soar, according to the annual forecast ahead of Black Friday and the December holiday season that comes from the University of Cincinnati Economics Center. It’s in conjunction with the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and its research arm Focus on Ohio’s Future.

The state is seeing continued growth in jobs, wages, housing prices and other key indicators, forecasters said as they projected retail spending to climb to nearly $24.9 billion, up from $24.1 million in 2017.

More than half of the state’s spending will come in the Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus metro areas, with Cleveland sales growth leading those three areas with a projected 3.8 percent.

Sears needs more than same loyal shoppers

At Sears at Great Northern Mall, Sue and Steve Hadick, of Independence shopped for stocking stuffers in the tools department.

“When you walk in and the store looks so empty it’s sad,” said Sue, 52. But her husband had way more to say.

“I’ve shopped here for tools for years. It’s where my parent’s shopped. I remember coming to Sears so much as a kid,” said Hadick, 57. “Growing up, I used to love going to the candy counter at the store on 117th street, buying candy by the scoop. I always got those little chocolate stars.

“Sears has always been in my life. They gave me my first credit card and I still have it. It helped to get my credit started and I have loyalty to this company….but yeah, I assume that this will probably be it for Sears.”

On Friday morning, Nick Theodore, 27, and his wife, Cayla, 26, were shopping for shoes, in a store with mostly middle-aged shoppers.

“I find good work clothes and boots at Sears for a decent price,” said Theodore, who turns to Sears for attire needed for manufacturing and construction jobs.

“I’m not a fan of their tools anymore though since they sold off their Craftsman line last year. We do a lot of shopping online.”

Cayla said she hopes Sears doesn’t close though, noting that she and her husband were at the Sears in Middleburg Heights last year right before it closed. But the couple said they didn’t go to the store because of memories about Sears or their selection.

“We went to find deals,” he said. “We’re not that sentimental.”

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