Washington Square Mall losing biggest tenant

Washington Square Mall, the east-side shopping center already plagued with vacancy problems, is losing its biggest tenant.

Sears Roebuck and Co. plans to close its 194,680-square-foot anchor store in early December, the retailer confirmed Monday. A liquidation sale began Friday.

The Sears Auto Center at the mall also will close.

Most of the 91 employees at the store are part-time workers and will be eligible to apply for open positions at other area Sears or Kmart stores, Sears Holdings Corp. said in a written statement. Kmart is owned by Sears Holdings.

The departure is the latest blow to Washington Square in recent months. Earlier this year, shopping mall giant Simon Property Group Inc. removed the property from its mall listings, instead classifying it among “other properties.”

In August, Simon stopped paying on a $14.5 million loan balance on the property and handed a deed to the mall over to a lender. Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle replaced Simon as the mall's property manager.
Simon’s decision came after a significant rise in vacancies at the mall. At the end of 2013, Washington Square’s occupancy rate was 43.8 percent, the lowest of any of Simon’s 295 U.S. properties, an SEC filing showed.

Occupancy was a respectable 86.6 percent in 2011 before slipping to 77.2 percent the following year.

The 967,700-square-foot mall, which opened in 1974, still has some large anchor tenants, including Dick’s, Target and Burlington Coat Factory.

The Sears closure is another sign of the longtime retail company’s ongoing struggles. On Friday, IBJ reported that two local Kmarts were going out of business as part of a wave of store closures.

Sears said it was closing Kmart stores at 2715 Madison Ave. and 7425 E. Washington St. by early December. Liquidation sales started Sunday.

Sears Holdings posted a second-quarter loss of $573 million this year on sales that declined 9.7 percent. The retailer has experienced 30 straight quarterly revenue declines and nine straight money-losing quarters.

The company acknowledged closing 130 under-performing Sears and Kmart stores in the first half of 2014. And nearly 680 Kmarts have closed since the chain emerged from bankruptcy in 2003.


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