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At least 100 Sears, Kmart stores to close after poor holiday

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011
 

NEW YORK -- After a disastrous holiday shopping season, the parent company of Sears and Kmart will close at least 100 stores to raise cash -- a move that sparked speculation about whether the 125-year-old retailer can avoid a death spiral fed by declining sales and deteriorating stores.

Sears Holdings Corp., a pillar of American retailing that famously began with a mail-order catalog in the 1880s, declared on Tuesday that it would no longer prop up "marginally performing" locations. The company pledged to refocus its efforts on stores that make money.

Sears' stock quickly plunged, dropping 27 percent.

From Johnstown west, there are 17 Sears stores and 27 Kmarts in Pennsylvania.

The closings are the latest and most visible move by Eddie Lampert, the hands-on chairman who has struggled to reverse the company's fortunes.

As rivals Wal-Mart and Target Corp. spruced up stores in recent years, Sears Holdings confronted falling sales and perceptions of dowdy merchandise.

Some analysts wondered if it was already too late, questioning whether the retailer can afford to upgrade stores as it burns through its cash reserves.

The sales weakness "begins and some would argue ends with Sears' reluctance to invest in stores and service," Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter wrote in a note to clients.

Spokesman Chris Brathwaite said no one had determined which stores would close or how many jobs might be cut. He disputed doubts about the company's survival, noting it still has $2.9 billion available under its credit lines.

Sears and Kmart were retail pioneers. Sears' catalog and department stores were fixtures of American life stretching back to the 19th century before being hurt in recent years by competition from steep discounters and by missteps that included forays into financial services and the decision to sell off a lucrative credit card business.

Kmart helped create the discount-store format that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. came to dominate.

Sears Holdings has watched its cash and short-term investments plummet by nearly half since Jan. 31, from about $1.3 billion to about $700 million.

The projected closings represent only about 3 percent of Sears Holdings' U.S. stores. And the company has actually added stores since the Sears-Kmart merger in 2005. It has about 3,560 stores in the United States, up from 3,500 right after the merger, thanks to the addition of more small stores.

But the company hinted that more closings could be on the horizon.

In addition to the closings, the company announced that revenue at stores open at least a year fell 5.2 percent for the eight weeks ended Dec. 25.

Kmart's layaway program, meant to help cash-strapped customers buy presents by paying for them a little at a time, faltered as Wal-Mart brought back layaway for the holiday season after getting rid of the program in 2006. Sears stores reported softer sales of home appliances, usually a strength.

 

 
 


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