Medford Sears to close

Sears

Long a stalwart in a declining retail empire, the Medford Center Sears will close in March after 60 years.

Scores of closures, including Oregon’s other six full-line Sears retail locations in recent years, left the Medford store as the sole survivor for many miles. The nearest store on the going forward list is in Sacramento.

The news drew notes of sadness and fond memories from readers on the Mail Tribune’s Facebook page Friday.

“So many memories here,” Lorraine Hopper posted. “When I was a little girl they had a candy counter. It smelled so good. Sea foam chocolate! Bought my first Beatle album there. My Mom bought all appliances there!”

“Worked there 21 years,” posted Terry Tracy. “1976-1997. Made a lot of friends and great memories there.”

Historically, the Medford Sears had posted solid results. After avoiding multiple rounds of closures, the store’s 70 employees found themselves on the same list as coworkers at 79 other Sears stores around the nation. Some of the employees, who learned their store’s fate Friday, have been with the company their entire adult working lives. One has been a Sears employee for 40 years, dating back to a time when the local store employed about 200.

The company filed for Chapter 11 court protection in October and could face liquidation if agreements with creditors can’t be reached. The 130-year-old retailer, founded as a mail order catalog firm in the 1880s, set a deadline of Friday for bids for its remaining stores to avert closing down completely.

The retailer has been in a slow death spiral, hobbled by the Great Recession and then overwhelmed by rivals both down the street and across the internet.

The 80 stores due to close by March are in addition to 182 stores already slated for closure, including 142 by the end of 2018 and 40 by February. When the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it claimed at the time it would close more than 20 percent of all stores, keeping open only its 500 most profitable locations.

Sears Holdings Corp., which also runs Kmart, joins the list of retail brands taken over by hedge funds that collapsed under the weight of debt forced upon them.

Under hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert, Sears has bought time by spinning off stores and putting on the block the brands that had grown synonymous with the company, such as Craftsman. The company’s chairman and biggest shareholder, Lampert loaned out his own money and put together deals to keep the company afloat and to turn whatever profit he could for ESL hedge fund. Lampert and ESL have been trying to buy the rest of Sears for up to $4.6 billion in cash and stock.

But no official bid appeared to have emerged as of Friday evening. Sears declined to comment.

Facebook posters speculated the large cornerstone of The Village at Medford Center would be a good location for a skating rink or an aquatics facility, but for one employee, the speculation was too soon.

“Please, have some compassion for the employees who will be out of a job, especially those like myself who have spent a lot of yrs there!!” posted Delia Centeno. “These people are like family and this is devastating to us.”

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