Shop Around: Sears to close Harbison store as lease expires

Sears at Columbiana Centre in the Harbison area will close its store and auto center in early March, the company said Thursday in a statement.

Nearly 100 workers – most of them part-time – will lose their jobs. The store has 76 employees, while the auto center has 21.

A liquidation sale will start Jan. 17 to clear remaining inventory before the closing.

In its statement, Sears said its lease is not being renewed. A spokesman for mall owner General Growth Properties declined to comment Thursday.

But retail experts do not expect the roughly 100,000-plus-square-foot store to stay empty for long.

“It’s just prime property right now,” said Marianne Bickle, department chairwoman of retailing for the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina. “Whoever goes in there … it could be really exciting.”

Harbison, which has been a thriving shopping corridor in the Midlands for decades, has been undergoing fresh revitalization in the past couple of years despite the tepid economic recovery. Several strip malls have been built, attracting the state’s first Designer Shoe Warehouse and a Home Goods store. An Academy Sports + Outdoor is planned behind that center, and Nordstrom Rack likely will replace a Barnes & Noble that closed at the end of the year.

The mall itself – owned by General Growth – has attracted stores such as Forever 21 and a standalone Sephora cosmetics store. The mall was at 98 percent occupancy last year, according to its managers, in an era when indoor suburban malls are falling into disfavor with consumers.

Bickle speculated that Sears closure was a “planned exit.”

“I highly suspect that they are increasing the rent,” she said. “They knew Sears was not drawing in the traffic. … I suspect if they’re smart – and they are – that they will be aggressively seeking out smart retailers.”

Whether a large-scale retailer or several smaller ones end up taking over the space, the change will be a boon to the mall and the Harbison area as curious consumers check out the new stores, Bickle said.

“They’ll do very well,” she said. “The mall is in a very advantageous position now that Sears is leaving. The retailers along that corridor also will benefit because it will bring in new customer traffic.

“People will be interested.”

The financial woes of Sears Holdings, which also owns Kmart, have been well documented. For years, the company has been spinning off businesses and closing stores in an attempt to turn around sales declines.

The company has closed three of its Kmart stores in the Columbia area in the past three years as leases expired. It has three remaining Kmarts in the Midlands. A spokesman said the Sears store at Columbia Place Mall on Two Notch Road will remain open.

In its statement about the closing of the Columbiana store, Sears wrote: “Store closures are part of a series of actions we’re taking to reduce on-going 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.”