Kmarts in Winchester and Hazard, Sears in Middlesboro to close

The Kmart stores in Winchester and Hazard and a Sears hard-lines store in Middlesboro are among those that will be closed, according to a list released Thursday by the struggling Sears Holdings Co., which controls the two retail chains.

The announcement includes 79 of the planned 100 to 120 stores that will be shuttered on the heels of a disappointing holiday season.

The list, which is not complete, identifies 38 Kmart and 41 Sears stores.

In addition to the Winchester store, Kmart operates Central Kentucky stores on Nicholasville Road in Lexington and in Georgetown, Versailles and Frankfort. Sears has a store in Fayette Mall in Lexington. Those stores were not on Thursday's list of closings.

Ronnie Carter, a Middlesboro city council member, said he was surprised because the Sears store there appeared successful.

"I just bought a set of tires out there," he said.

He said the Bell County town is gaining a Cracker Barrel and Little Caesars Pizza but is losing a steak house and Captain D's seafood restaurant while other chain restaurants look at Middlesboro for possible locations.

He estimated the Sears in Middlesboro employed 20 to 25 people.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said that the city would market the Kmart space to other retailers, but that in the interim he thought other retailers would pick up the customers affected by the store's closing.

"We have worked extremely hard in Winchester and Clark County in the retail/commercial area, and will continue to do so," Burtner said. "We absolutely regret the loss of jobs."

Employees at the three affected Kentucky stores declined to speak with a reporter, saying they had been told not to talk to the media by the stores' parent company.

The store closings are part of a new strategy the company announced Tuesday of redirecting resources to profitable stores and away from under-performing stores.

"While our past practice has been to keep marginally performing stores open while we worked to improve their performance, we no longer believe that to be the appropriate action in this environment," the company said in a statement.

Retail analysts say the company, which has suffered more than four years of sales declines, might be headed to bankruptcy unless it takes drastic action to upgrade its stores and revamp its merchandise.

The company did not specify how many employees would be affected but said a typical store that is being closed employs 40 to 80 people.

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