Sears Store in West Lebanon to Close

  • An employee of Frontline Media Services, who declined to identify himself, left, talks with sign holder Trevor Liedtke, of People Ready, right, after bringing Liedtke water and a snack while advertising the liquidation sale at Sears in West Lebanon, N.H., Friday, June 23, 2017. The store is one of about 250 stores the chain is closing nationwide. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/23/2017 11:05:49 AM
Modified: 6/24/2017 12:37:39 AM

West Lebanon — The Sears store in the Upper Valley Plaza is closing, the latest retailer to shut its doors as more shoppers go online or to other big-box outlets.

Large signs in the plate glass windows of the store in the plaza along Route 12A on Friday announced “Store Closing Sale, Everything Must Go.”

The store manager referred a reporter to corporate headquarters in Illinois, but messages left for a company spokesperson were not returned.

The signs prompted a regular flow of shoppers. Some walked out empty-handed, others had assistance from store personnel wheeling out a lawn mower, shop vac and a table saw.

Melissa Hurley, of Randolph, with her son Connor, left with a shopping cart full of tools while a store employee carried a weed wacker to her pickup truck.

She had come to the plaza to shop at Kay Jewelers next to Sears and saw the closing signs.

Hurley, who with her husband owns a firm that installs office furniture, said she bought a complete set of tools for her four employees, a dishwasher, fan and more. Though she loved the discounted price, Hurley was disappointed to see the Sears store closing.

“You can go to Home Depot, but here you get more personal service,” Hurley said while loading up her truck. “They know more about the products they are selling.”

The Sears service center and warehouse on Airpark Road across from the maintenance facility at the Lebanon Municipal Airport also is closing, according to a worker there on Friday. The building serves as a warehouse for customers to pick up their merchandise — mostly large appliances displayed on the showroom floor in the Upper Valley Plaza store.

News of the pending Sears closing comes on the heels of Bridgman’s Furniture’s announcement last week that it was selling its 32,000-square-foot Miracle Mile store to the nonprofit Listen Community Services. A RadioShack, Borders bookstore, and several independent retailers also have closed along Route 12A in recent years.

At present, there are vacant storefronts in Powerhouse Plaza in the space adjacent to Shaw’s and North Country Plaza next to Panera Bread, indicating the difficulty shopping center owners may be having in finding new retail tenants.

Sears store personnel referred all questions about the decision to close and any assistance to store employees to Howard Rief of media relations for Sears Holdings Corp. in Chicago. Several phone calls made during the week to Rief were not returned.

It is not clear how much longer the store will stay open, though the sales floor was mostly full with product on Friday, with posted signs announcing markdowns of 15 percent and 20 percent.

News of the West Lebanon store’s fate came on the same day Sears announced it is closing 20 more stores — 18 Sears and 2 K-mart stores, according to the Chicago Tribune. The company closed 150 Sears stores already this year and another 66 are expected to close by early September.

Stores are expected to start liquidation sales within the next week before closing in September, the Chicago Tribune reported.

And Bloomberg News on Thursday said Sears Canada Inc., the struggling offshoot of Sears Holdings Corp., sought court protection from creditors to carry out a restructuring plan after it ran short on cash.

The court order allowed Sears Canada to obtain debtor-in-possession financing of $340 million, according to the company, which also said it’s closing 20 full-line locations and 15 Sears Home Stores, 10 Sears Outlet and 14 Sears Hometown locations in Canada. About 2,900 jobs will be cut from the retail network and at the corporate head office in Toronto, Sears Canada said.

The move represents the most high-profile setback yet to the Sears retail empire overseen by billionaire hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert. Together with Sears Holdings, Lampert controlled the majority of shares in Sears Canada, a business that once was seen as a bright spot.

The U.S. company remains in a dire state as well. Once the biggest U.S. retailer, Sears has been shuttering stores amid a broader department store slump. Lampert, who is chairman, chief executive officer and the largest shareholder, has injected more than $1 billion to bolster the company.

In a clear indication of the severity of the financial problems at Sears, the company reported in April that losses widened and revenue plunged during the first quarter of this year.

Revenue tumbled 20 percent to $4.3 billion, leading Sears to lose $230 million, or $2.15 per share, compared to a loss of $199 million, or $1.86 per share, in the year-earlier period.

Lambert, the Sears CEO, in a news release called the retailer’s first-quarter financial performance “challenging” and said the results underscored Sears’ “need to accelerate our effort to improve our operational performance and (proceed) decisively with our $1.25 billion restructuring program.”

That restructuring program, which Sears announced a few months earlier in February, calls for shaving costs by at least $1 billion annually through the closing of “underperforming” Sears and Kmart stores, Kmart pharmacies and Sears Auto Center locations, cutting corporate overhead and “more closely” integrating Sears and Kmart store operations.

In the April announcement, Sears also said it would have to seek an additional $250 million in annual cost cuts on top of the $1 billion, which would require the company to “closely evaluate the longer-term viability of stores where a clear path to profitability is not in sight.”

Sears has been in the Upper Valley Plaza along Route 12A since the 1980s, and completed a major overhaul five years ago after it was flooded out by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

The store occupies about 15,000 square feet and sells a variety of products, from large appliances to tools and power equipment, mattresses and exercise equipment.

Before moving to Route 12A, Sears had a catalog store along the Miracle Mile in Lebanon.

Its West Lebanon location had long been seen as a prime location for Sears, given its delivery of appliances and access to Interstates 89 and 91 and Vermont shoppers who often come to New Hampshire in a bid to avoid paying a sales tax on big-ticket items.

On Friday, the Sears store still had a sign above its front door announcing that it was hiring employees.

In Claremont, the Sears Hometown store on Washington Street has no plans to close, according to a woman who answered the phone at the store on Friday.

She said Sears Hometown stores are a division of Sears, but are “independently owned and independently operated.”

Despite the West Lebanon store’s closing, customers still can purchase Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances, two longtime staples at Sears, at the Kmart store about a half-mile north on Route 12A across the I-89 interchange.

Lebanon resident Terry Root, who bought a grass trimmer at Sears on Friday, said he has purchased a lot of tools at the Sears store for himself and his son, who is in the building business, and has shopped there regularly.

“I think it stinks,” he said about the closing. “I really do. I am going to miss it.”

Staff Writer John Lippman contributed to this report. Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.

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