Lexington's Sears enters finals days; store to close Sunday

Sears, which had a store in Lexington since at least the 1930s, will be replaced at Fayette Mall by new retailers, with two or three restaurants planned for the front of the building.
Sears, which had a store in Lexington since at least the 1930s, will be replaced at Fayette Mall by new retailers, with two or three restaurants planned for the front of the building. Lexington Herald-Leader

The era of Sears is ending in Lexington: The store, a shopping stalwart for generations of Central Kentuckians but whose corporate parent has struggled mightily in the past decade, will close at Fayette Mall for the last time at 6 p.m. Sunday.

This week, shoppers combed through the remaining clothes, leftover Christmas decorations and a few air conditioners and dishwashers. Everything down to the fixtures was for sale, sometimes — but not always — at bargain prices.

Much of the store's contents has already gone, and what was left was pushed into islands in the center of the store: a few racks of Lands' End clothes, a rack or two of bras, a table of shoes were all that was left of the once-ubiquitous Sears.

Dan Summerlin, spokesman for the mall's owners, CBL & Associates Properties in Chattanooga, said reconstruction on the 150,000-square-foot Sears site, which sits in the middle of the mall between the Macy's and Dillard's wings, will begin in February.

Sears was an anchor for the original mall, built in 1971; when the south wing was added in 1993, the store became a pass-through.

That might have increased foot traffic, but it became a visual metaphor for the once-great retailer's declining market share: Sears became something shoppers walked through to get to better stuff.

The renovated section will be reconfigured more like traditional mall space, with stores and restaurants on either side.

Mall manager Myron Worley said that during construction, a passage will remain open so shoppers can walk from one end of the mall to the other.

There has been no word yet on what new stores will be coming.

The hot rumor among the remaining Sears employees is that The Cheesecake Factory is coming. The Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based restaurant chain, known for its huge menu and 70-plus varieties of cheesecake, already has outposts in Louisville and Cincinnati.

Mall management wouldn't confirm that.

"I've heard every upscale thing you can think of while walking through," Worley said. "Some more probable than others."

Specifics are expected to be announced in coming weeks.

On Thursday, Sears Holdings reported that it expects a huge adjusted loss of $213 million and $316 million, or $2.01 to $2.98 per share, for its fourth quarter. For the year, it forecast an adjusted loss between $811 million and $914 million, or $7.64 to $8.61 per share.

The retailer also said its Kmart and Sears chains combined had a 7.4 percent drop in revenue from stores open at least a year for the nine-week period that ended Jan. 6.

In July, corporate Sears Holdings announced that the Lexington store would close.

Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Illinois-based Sears Holdings, which also owns Kmart and Lands' End, said in an email message at the time that store closings "are part of a series of actions we're taking to reduce ongoing 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."

With the closing, there will be no Sears store in Lexington, a first since at least the 1930s.

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