Sears is closing 80 more stores as it teeters on the brink of liquidation through a bankruptcy court. The 130-year old retailer had set a deadline of Friday for bids for its remaining stores to avert closing down completely. The only apparent bidder: Sears Holdings Corp.'s current chairman, the hedge fund investor Edward S. Lampert, CNBC reported, citing anonymous sources.
It's not clear if Lampert can save the day. The once-mighty retailer that began as a mail-order catalog in the 1880s 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 are due to close by March. That's in addition to 182 stores already slated for closure, including 142 by the end of 2108 and 40 by February. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October , saying at the time it would close more than 20 percent of all stores, keeping open only its 500 most profitable locations.
Sears Holdings, 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 Lampert, Sears Holdings 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 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 his ESL Investments hedge fund. Lampert and ESL have been trying to buy the rest of Sears for up to $4.6 billion in cash and stock, a move ESL claimed could save 50,000 jobs.
If the Lambert bid that CNBC cited Friday has been submitted, Sears' bankruptcy advisers would have until Jan. 4 to decide whether the new bid from Mr. Lampert qualifies. If they approve, Lampert could then participate in a scheduled Jan. 14 liquidation bid auction, according to Yahoo News and court filings.
Retail industry analyst Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, was highly pessimistic Friday about the chances for success. "It looks increasingly likely that Sears will fall into liquidation," Saunders stated. "In our view, the lack of bids and the difficulties Eddie Lampert i[appears to be] having in raising finance for his own offer reflects the fact that Sears is essentially worthless. Not only is the business deeply unprofitable, but it also suffers from a tarnished brand and the lack of a clear proposition. This means any purchaser would need to undertake both severe financial engineering as well as brand reinvention -- a costly and risky process with little guarantee of success."
The retail analyst was particularly dismissive of Lampert's attempts to turn around Sears when he was CEO of the company before the October bankruptcy filing: "Sears has attempted to shrink its way to success by closing stores. While closure sales have helped to temporarily boost [traffic] and revenue at some shops, they have done nothing to put the firm on a sound footing. Nor have the efforts improved perceptions. Our data from the holiday period show that overall customer usage of both Sears and Kmart has fallen, and perceptions of both brands are down on last year's low scores. In our opinion, this is a brand now at rock bottom."
Without Lampert's ESL buying the company as a whole, liquidators are likely to split up the company. More stores than previously planned could still be shut, sold or demolished.
Ultimately, Saunders observed, "we do not preclude the brand assets being purchased during liquidation, with the Sears name perhaps surviving as an online-only entity. Such an outcome would be a dispiriting end to a once iconic retailer. However, over many years, a string of incredibly poor management decisions put Sears on a path to failure, making liquidation the most likely outcome of the bankruptcy process which began back in October."
The company notified employees it plans to shut the 80 additional stores by March, according to the following statement: "As part of Sears Holdings' processes to accelerate its strategic transformation and facilitate its financial restructuring, on December 27, 2018, the company informed associates at 80 stores that we will be closing these Sears and Kmart stores in late March 2019. Liquidation sales at these stores are expected to begin in two weeks."
Is my local Sears store closing?
Here is the list of the store closings announced Friday. Asterisks note Sears stores where the accompanying Sears Auto Center at the Sears store will also be closing:
Kmart 7055 East Broadway Tucson AZ
Kmart 2180 E Mariposa Rd Stockton CA
Kmart 20777 Bear Valley Rd Apple Valley CA
Kmart 1000 San Fernando Rd Burbank CA
Kmart 2875 Santa Maria Way Santa Maria CA
Kmart 2505 Bell Rd Auburn CA
Kmart 295 Hartford Turnpike Vernon CT
Kmart 200 Irwin Ne Fort Walton Beach FL
Kmart 6126 Hwy 301 Ellenton FL
Kmart 11 Sherwood Square Peru IN
Kmart 2940 Veterans Blvd Metairie LA
Kmart 8980 Waltham Woods Rd Baltimore MD
Kmart 201 Ninth St S E Rochester MN
Kmart 155 Twin City Mall Crystal City MO
Kmart 12057 Highway 49 Delmar Plaza Gulfport MS
Kmart 980 Brevard Rd Asheville NC
Kmart 110 112 Bost Rd Morganton NC
Kmart 4841 Arendell St Morehead City NC
Kmart 1900 S Washington St Grand Forks ND
Kmart 1515 W 3Rd Alliance NE
Kmart 213 Highway 37 E Toms River NJ
Kmart 1705 S Main St Roswell NM
Kmart 308 Dix Avenue Queensbury NY
Kmart 1020 Center Street Grand Central Plaza Horseheads NY
Kmart 121 Bolivar Road Wellsville NY
Kmart 1251 State Rte 29 Ste 1O Greenwich Plaza Greenwich NY
Kmart 7701 Broadview Road Cleveland OH
Kmart 620 Plaza Dr Fostoria OH
Kmart 400 N East Circle Blvd Corvallis OR
Kmart 996 West View Park Drive Pittsburgh PA
Kmart 2873 W 26Th Street Erie PA
Kmart 1143 Broad St Sumter SC
Kmart 1111 E North St Rapid City SD
Kmart 1805 E Stone Dr Kingsport TN
Kmart 217 Forks Of River Pkwy Sevierville TN
Kmart 4110 E Sprague Ave Spokane WA
Kmart 1450 Summit Avenue Oconomowoc WI
Sears* 2050 Southgate Rd Colorado Spgs CO
Sears* 1650 Briargate Blvd Colorado Spgs CO
Sears* 3201 Dillon Dr Pueblo CO
Sears 1700 W Intl Speedway Blvd Daytona Beach FL
Sears* 1500 Apalachee Pkwy Tallahassee FL
Sears* 347 Westshore Plz Tampa FL
Sears* 1441 Tamiami Trl Pt Charlotte FL
Sears* 9409 Us Highway 19 N Ste 101 Port Richey FL
Sears* 150 Pearl Nix Pkwy Gainesville GA
Sears* 4480 Sergeant Rd Sioux City IA
Sears 235 Saint Clair Sq Fairview Hts IL
Sears* 7200 Harrison Ave Cherry Valley IL
Sears* 7700 E Kellogg Dr Wichita KS
Sears 4400 Veterans Mem Blvd Metairie LA
Sears* 2306 N Salisbury Blvd Salisbury MD
Sears* 5500 Harvey St Muskegon MI
Sears 27600 Novi Rd Novi MI
Sears 2000 N E Court Bloomington MN
Sears* 1620 Guess Rd Durham NC
Sears* The Streets Of Southpoint Durham NC
Sears* 7424 Dodge St Omaha NE
Sears* 6400 O St Lincoln NE
Sears* 3450 S Maryland Pkwy Las Vegas NV
Sears* 10 Miracle Mile Dr Rochester NY
Sears 5053 Tuttle Crossing Blvd Columbus OH
Sears* 1400 Polaris Pkwy Columbus OH
Sears* 1475 Upper Valley Pike Springfield OH
Sears* 501 Medford Ctr Medford OR
Sears* 200 Park City Ctr Lancaster PA
Sears* 5256 Route 30 Greensburg PA
Sears* 5580 Goods Lane Ste 1005 Altoona PA
Sears 1000 Rivergate Pkwy Goodlettsvlle TN
Sears 2021 N Highland Ave Jackson TN
Sears* 201 S Plano Rd Richardson TX
Sears* 4310 Buffalo Gap Rd Abilene TX
Sears* 851 N Central Expwy Plano TX
Sears* 6001 W Waco Dr Waco TX
Sears* 7701 1-40 W Ste 400 Amarillo TX
Sears* 2100 S W S Young Dr Killeen TX
Sears 3100 Highway 365 Port Arthur TX
Sears* 1531 Rio Rd E Charlottesville VA
Sears* 1321 N Columbia Center Blvd Suite 455 Kennewick WA
Sears 4301 W Wisconsin Ave Appleton WI
* Sears Auto Center closing, late January
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.