It’s a short walk for Robert Font from the Westside home he has lived in for 11 years to the Sears store at Ingram Park Mall.
It’s a walk he has made dozens of times over the years to purchase items for the six grandchildren he is helping raise. But it’s a walk he will probably take just a few more times over the next few months as the store’s management begins the process of clearing merchandise to close the doors for good.
One of America’s iconic retailers, Sears announced this week it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in New York and closing 142 more stores across the nation. The company has been steadily downsizing in recent years with more than 100 stores closed this year alone before the bankruptcy news and further closings were announced this week. The Sears at Ingram Park Mall just outside Loop 410 on the West Side is among them and the only San Antonio location going dark in this round of closings.
But it is the second Sears to close in San Antonio this year. The store at Park North Shopping Center closed in July. The two remaining stores on the South and Northeast sides will remain open for now.
The Hoffman, Illinois-based company has massive debt problems and hasn’t turned a profit in seven years. It reportedly has more than $11 billion in debt, which doesn’t seem to bode well for its efforts to downsize and stay afloat operating fewer stores.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for loyal customers like Font, who remembers the Sears catalog arriving at his childhood home through mail.
“It’s been around for a long time, as long as I can remember,” said Font, who is 56.
He said he doesn’t understand why the company is choosing to close its Ingram Park Mall location and keep open locations at South Park and Rolling Oaks malls.
“Especially during the holidays, [Ingram Park Mall] is packed all the time, and Sears is the same way. Over [at South Park Mall], it’s not.”
San Antonio natives Gloria and Tony Zamora walked out of the Sears into the mall empty-handed during the noon hour Tuesday. They’ve been coming to this store since they were children. The store first opened in 1978, and Gloria said she remembers shopping for items for her oldest son at the store when he was little. He is now 46.
“I guess my kids are going to have to do my shopping for me now – on the internet,” she said.
A company with a pioneering spirit that in recent years has been described as the Amazon of the 20th century, appears to be on its last legs. It once was the world’s largest retailer and ahead of its time in offering customers the ability to shop from home through its catalog and have products shipped to their front doors.
Sears was founded as a mail-order retailer in the 1880s. It didn’t open its first department store until 1925 (in Chicago) but had approximately 300 stores nationwide just four years later on the cusp of the Great Depression.It reached the $1 billion sales mark in 1945.
Sears eventually grew to more than 3,500 stores, including specialty stores, and spread its reach and influence overtime into other sectors such as insurance with the introduction of Allstate in 1931 and credit cards with the introduction of the Sears card in 1953 and the Discover card in 1985. Eventually, it was overtaken as the nation’s largest retailer by Walmart in 1991, according to a historical look at the company by smithsonian.com.
Gloria Zamora said she often looked through the Sears catalog and others like it years ago, but rarely, if ever, purchased anything. She said not much has changed for her with the internet. She might look at products online, but she generally wants to touch and feel them in her hands at the store before spending her money.
“I like to try things on in the store,” she said.
Gilbert Molina is the store manager at Sears at Ingram Park Mall. He’s been a store manager with the company for more than three years but has been at this location for just a year. Molina referred all requests for comments to Sears’ corporate headquarters, but he did acknowledge that it has been a difficult way to start the week for employees who are uncertain about their future.
Sears’ corporate representatives did not return the Rivard Report‘s phone call, and it is unclear how many employees at the Ingram Park store will lose their jobs as a result of the closure.
Molina said some of the employees at his location have been with the company for 30 years. Some of them already went through the process of closing a store just a few months ago at the Park North location, he added.
Molina said he heard from customers Monday and Tuesday after news of store’s closing was reported, with most saying they were disappointed it wouldn’t be there much longer. A definitive time table for the store’s closing has not been shared with employees.
John Zamora, a 33-year-old local real estate agent who met his parents, Gloria and Tony, at the mall Tuesday afternoon, said he had explained to his son on Monday night the historical significance of Sears.
“This is a perfect example of the times changing and not keeping up with those times,” John Zamora said.