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After 62 years in the Midlands, Sears to close last major Columbia-area store

The Sears at Columbia Place mall will close later this year.
The Sears at Columbia Place mall will close later this year.

The Sears store at Columbia Place Mall on Two Notch Road will be one of 72 Sears-owned stores nationwide to close later this year as part of the company’s latest round of closings, the company announced Tuesday.

Sears had already announced earlier this year that it was planning to close 180 stores nationwide. The additional 72 stores include 16 Sears stores and 49 Kmart stores and seven auto centers – all owned by Sears.

Most of the stores are expected to close in September.

Sears has been a fixture in Columbia since at least 1955, when the company opened on Harden Street at what is now a shopping center that houses Food Lion and Office Depot. For the next 10 to 15 years, it was one of the Midlands’ major retail locations, selling everything from children’s clothes to riding lawn mowers and electronics.

That store moved to Columbia Mall — now Columbia Place — when that mall opened in August 1977.

Sears’ closing will leave Columbia Place with just two anchor stores — Macy’s and Burlington Coat Factory. Officials at Columbia Place were not available for comment.

Like many brick-and-mortar retailers, Sears has lost business to online sales. In the first quarter of this year, the company reported an operating loss at $222 million. Revenue fell 20 percent in the first quarter.

Karen Edwards, a senior instructor of retailing at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality Retailing and Sport Management, said Sears has five major factors working against it.

▪ Online sales: Online sales still only represents about 10 percent to 15 percent of the retail market, Edwards said. But is the fastest growing segment of the retail market, so it is having an impact. "Brick and mortar is declining as online transactions are growing," she said. "And those retailers that are growing are focusing on the online market."

▪ Walmart: About 15 year ago, Sears was the number one retailer in the country. But it has been eclipsed by Walmart. "And today, Walmart is second in online sales, even though they are far behind Amazon," Edwards said.

▪ Women's apparel: Sears never got any traction in women's apparel, especially in young women's apparel, Edwards said. In surveys with young women, Sears apparel is ranked near the bottom with Goodwill, Edwards said, and sometimes below Goodwill. "They are not marketing to or not catering to the apparel market," she said. "If you lose the apparel customer that's a really bad thing."

▪ Real estate: Sears is heavy in real estate. "For so many years they were the largest retailers in the world, so they owned most of their stores," Edwards said. "Sears has found itself with huge chucks of its assets in land in malls" that are struggling.

▪ Appliances: Even now, Sears' strongest position is in appliances. But that market is eroding since Lowe's and Home Depot started selling appliances. "That really really was the last straw for Sears," Edwards said.

The Sears, Roebuck & Company was founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1886. This year’s closings will bring the number of Sears stores nationwide to about 1,200 – down from over 2,000 in 2012.