After years of financial struggles, Sears filed for bankruptcy Monday morning. The 125-year old company is set to close 142 stores nationwide by the end of the year.
Just days before the filing, the company lost one of its prime locations in the Tampa Bay area, two acres at WestShore Plaza in Tampa. Last week, the real estate company that owns the mall, Washington Prime Group, negotiated an early termination of the lease to regain control of the space.
Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal said this is the best thing that could happen to the mall.
Sears has been a key piece of WestShore Plaza for many years, but it just hasn’t been bringing in the traffic that it used to.
“While they were once an anchor of a mall like WestShore Plaza, that hasn’t been the case in many years,” she said. “They’re occupying a prime piece of real estate that could be redeveloped and bring people to the mall and the area.”
Kritzer said the two acres Sears took up at the mall is a great spot because it sits at the intersection of Kennedy Blvd. and Interstate-275.
“This is not just a neighborhood shopping center,” she said. “This is something that draws from all over the Tampa Bay region.”
There are no set plans for what will go in the vacant spot, but Kritzer said the plaza will most likely replace Sears with a mix of medical, office, restaurant and retail space.
Sears has closed many other stores in the Tampa Bay area. The space at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg has already been developed into four smaller retailers. Kritzer also said the closure of a Sears at University Mall in Tampa is a good thing because the landlord now has full control of the space while they go through a redevelopment.
“Sears knew its best real estate in the Tampa Bay region was at the WestShore Plaza Mall,” Kritzer said. “Which is why it's the last one to close. It's the one that Sears held onto the longest.”
The 125-year old company used to be a big part of the American lifestyle, as it was the first store that sold everything to everyone, before super stores like Walmart or online retailers like Amazon. Kritzer said Sears was integral in building shopping malls across the country.
There was also a mall in Lakeland named after the company, called Searstown. Now, there’s only one store left in the city, and it’s set to close.
“It’s the shopping mall anchor of yesteryear,” Kritzer said, adding that Sears no longer drives the foot traffic that it used to. Most people want to go into stores and touch the things they’re buying, the company just doesn’t have that anymore, she said.
“Any shopping mall owner who still has a Sears at this point will likely look forward to getting the space back,” she said.
The company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which permits a reorganization.
“It remains to be seen what the new, reorganized Sears will look like,” Kritzer said. “But it’s very difficult to imagine that it will ever be anything close to what it once was.”