(Updated) Sears Newark store closes after shuttering of Claymont Kmart

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Sears storeA Sears Hardware closed with little fanfare  late last month as company operations shrink in  Delaware and elsewhere.

The store in the College Square Shopping Center was a long-time site for the Rickel  home improvement store up until the 1990s. In recent years, the store struggled   with the opening of the nearby Lowe’s and a Home Depot off Elkton Road in recent years.

The Sears website, which still lists the store as open, indicated that it is a locally owned franchise. A call to the store number went unanswered. All signage was removed from the site, a sign that another franchisee will not operate the site.

Sears  has long had franchise stores in smaller communities and for a time owned the West Auto franchise system. Sears sold the company and the Western Auto brand disappeared.

Sears has also opened or relocated appliance or scratch and dent  stores in the Christiana Mall  area that carried some of the product lines of the Newark store.

Sears Holdings’  Kmart store in Claymont at Tri-State Mall closed in early December.

The closing of the hardware  store is likely to increase speculation on the future of  the sprawling College Square center  which has seen a steady departure of  retailers over the years and is now down to Pathmark and Kmart as anchor stores, with the area around the hardware store largely vacant.

The closing of the Claymont Kmart led to similar speculation, since Kmart has  broad control over tenants that can locate in centers where it operates as an anchor store, making it difficult for landlords to accommodate interest retailers.

By contrast, the College Square’s former rival, Main Street,  has blossomed, with investment now pouring into the Newark Shopping Center.

Kmart spokesman Howard Riefs  said a few months ago the Claymont  store began its liquidation sale  last fall but did not return a request for comment on the Newark store.

“Store closures are part of a series of actions we’re taking to reduce on-going expenses, adjust our asset base, and accelerate the transformation of our business model. These actions will better enable us to focus our investments on serving our customers and members through integrated retail – at the store, online and in the home,” Reifs stated.

“Our investments in Shop Your Way and Integrated Retail enable us to migrate the shopping activity of highly engaged members who previously shopped these closed stores to alternative channels. As a result, we hope to retain a portion of the sales previously associated with these stores by nurturing and maintaining our relationships with the members that shopped these locations,” Reifs stated.

The programs aimed to reward loyal customers. Kmart is part of Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart stores.

News of the closings came as the website Seeking Alpha reported Sears would lay off more than 6,000 and close more than 100 Sears, Sears Auto  and Kmart stores. Sears spokesman Reiefs told USA Today the numbers on the store closings were not accurate. The Dover Kmart store closed in July.

Sears has mall stores in Prices Corner, Dover and Concord malls, a hardware store in Newark and an outlet “scratch and dent”  store south of Newark in University Plaza. Delaware Kmart stores  are  Newark, Bear and Rehoboth.

The Sears and Kmart stores were combined into Sears Holdings  by investor Edward Lampert in what many at the time saw as a smart real estate play, given the value of store sites. However, both chains have been suffering from a difficult retail environment for middle class customers and competition from Walmart, Target, Kohls and others. Online shopping is also chipping away at sales.

Sears, despite being the world’s leading catalog retailer at one point, failed to see the trend and ended up shutting down its once massive mail order operation. The  acquisition of  successful  catalog and online retailer Lands End ended up with Sears spinning off the company.

Sears does run an online sales operation that it hopes will gain more traction in a crowded marketplace.

The Claymont store is an example of the trend hitting Sears/Kmart  as it is located  near the now shuttered Evraz Claymont Steel plant, which laid off hundreds of workers late last year.

Lampert, who took over the post of CEO,  has been forced to inject capital into the  publicly traded company, Seeking Alpha reported. He comes with deep pockets with Forbes estimating his fortune at more than $3 billion. The company reported a $573 million second quarter loss.

The Claymont  store has 87 employees and associates that are eligible will receive severance and will have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores.  Most of the associates are part time/hourly, Reifs stated.

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