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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 11, 201905:20 AM EST

Closure of Sears at The Avenues mall ‘creates opportunities’

Sears says it is closing the store in mid-December. It has anchored the Southside shopping center since it opened in 1990.

Retail real estate brokers say the impending December closure of Sears at The Avenues mall gives the Southside shopping center a chance to fill the space with a more successful and vibrant tenant.

“It creates opportunity,” said Jason Ryals, executive director of Colliers International Northeast Florida.

Ryals said mall ownership, which includes national retail investor Simon Property Group, can sign a tenant “to bring some new life to that part of the project.”

He mentioned fitness and furniture tenants. “They won’t have a problem finding new tenants for that space,” Ryals said.

Sears, which has undergone bankruptcy reorganization, “doesn’t bring much to the trade area or the mall,” he said.

“Store closures aren’t always a negative,” he said.

Transform Holdco LLC, the parent company of Sears and Kmart, said it will close the Sears store at The Avenues mall by mid-December.

Sears occupies both levels at the North end of The Avenues Mall.

The store has anchored the 10300 Southside Blvd. mall since the shopping center opened in 1990. Sears occupies 125,330 square feet of space on two levels on the north end of the 1.11 million-square-foot enclosed mall.

Liquidation sales are expected to start in mid-September, according to Sears and Kmart spokesman Larry Costello.

Costello said Tuesday he would have no further comment and declined to say how many employees work at The Avenues mall store.

A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Notice was not filed with the state as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Costello said Sears would not release a full list of the latest closures, although USA Today reported almost 100 stores are in this round. Sears has been closing stores in phases.

During its heyday, Sears operated department stores in Regency Square Mall, The Avenues mall and Orange Park Mall in Northeast Florida.

The Regency store closed in July 2016 and is for sale at the mostly vacant mall. The Orange Park store remains in operation.

Sears leases The Avenues space.

Sears Holdings Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 15. Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert won a bid to buy the Sears Holdings Corp. assets, including the Regency and Orange Park properties it owned in Northeast Florida. Lampert controls Transform Holdco.

Retail broker Geneva Henderson, executive vice president of Lat Purser & Associates, said Sears has lost so many shoppers over the years that The Avenues closing “will not really affect the mall.”

“They will find, if they haven’t already, a replacement tenant,” Henderson said. 

“They might de-mall that end of the mall and put junior anchors in place,” she said, referring to the practice by some shopping center landlords of demolishing or redesigning large structures and rebuilding with smaller stores.

Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group owned or held an interest in 206 properties in the U.S. as of year-end, including 107 malls, in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

Henderson called Simon “a beast of a landlord” that “has many different avenues to find better, more active tenants to backfill the space.”

A Simon spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

In an August statement announcing 26 closures, Transform Holdco said “our goal remains to return the company to profitability and preserve as many jobs as possible in the communities we serve.”

Transform Holdco said it would focus on expanding its smaller store formats, which would include opening more Home & Life Stores and adding “several hundred” Sears Hometown stores.

Staff Writer Katie Garwood contributed to this report.

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