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Chicago Ridge mayor is hoping there is more in store for Sears

sears sign photo 1 3 Photo by Joe Boyle

A Sears sign is prominent outside the automotive center at the Chicago Ridge Mall location. A new $5 billion proposal was made by Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert to keep the iconic retailer open.

By Joe Boyle

The future existence of Sears is in on the brink, and no one is more aware of that than Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar.

Tokar was unavailable for comment on Tuesday but has stated in previous Reporter stories that Sears is still a popular destination at the Chicago Ridge Mall.

As of Wednesday morning, Sears Holdings Corp. Chairman Eddie Lampert is at least temporarily victorious in a bankruptcy auction for the iconic chain, according to published reports.

However, there is a chance the deal could fall apart because it needs to be documented and approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge. A hearing is expected for later in the week.

The mayor and the owners of the Chicago Ridge Mall have been waiting to hear news about the state of affairs of Sears and its Kmart brand on Tuesday.

Talks continued through Tuesday with Lampert as stakeholders examine if the retailer should continue operating. According to published reports, discussions lasted over 12 hours on Monday before they agreed to reconvene on Tuesday over the fate of Sears Holdings Corps.

Talks on the latest Sears takeover bid from Lampert extended through Tuesday as stakeholders try to reach an agreement on whether Sears Holdings Corp. should live on. Lampert, who has served as CEO, lender and shareholder for Sears, is the only one to put in a proposal to keep the store operating.

Lampert has increased his bid to $5 billion and that includes a $120 million cash deposit through an affiliate of his ESL Investments hedge fund, according to reports.

Lampert has been viewed as a possible savior or an opportunist, depending on the source. Critics point out that by keeping Sears alive, Lampert will receive a large tax advantage if the store continues and he could use the company’s net operating losses for one of his other businesses that could take over.

Tokar is waiting to hear what will take place. He believes that a store that has been an anchor of the north end of the Chicago Ridge Mall near 95th and Ridgeland Avenue should continue.

“You look at all the stores that have closed and I know we are doing substantially well,” the mayor has previously said. “What I have been told is that the sales have been doing really well here.”

Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 15 due to sagging sales and rising debts as they struggle to exist in a rapidly changing market that is now speared by online sales as opposed to once iconic brick-and-mortar stores.

With the Chapter 11 bankruptcy announcement, Sears planned to close 142 of its over 700 remaining stores. Despite those bleak figures, Tokar believes that the Sears store in the Chicago Ridge Mall can remain operating because sales have not dipped as much as in other locations.

Sears was once the one-stop shopping store. Beginning as a mail-order watch business 132 years ago in Minneapolis, the business grew rapidly and found a home in Chicago. Generation after generation grew up with the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Many parents, and children as well, would skim through the catalog when it arrived in homes as early as September to see what they would like for Christmas.

That tradition continued until 1993, when Sears discontinued sending out the catalogs.

The company has since shrunk considerably from 350,000 employees at its peak and is now under 90,000. They have fallen because of a changing marketplace, an increasing online presence, and additional discount stores.

The future of Sears may rest with the efforts of Lampert.

“For as long as I have been involved with Sears, I have cared deeply about the company, its associates and the people they serve,” Lampert said in a statement that was provided to the Associated Press. “While the opportunity I saw from the start for Sears to benefit from the disruptive changes in retail and technology has not worked so far, it is still there to be taken. Every transformation involves perseverance and risk, but I am hopeful that we can execute better and faster on the smaller platform we are building on.”

Tokar has experienced the closing of Carson’s at the Chicago Ridge Mall this summer. Conversations with the present owners of Carson’s have taken place but no decision has been made yet on reopening. The mayor still sees a future for Sears.

“Our Sears has just about 10 percent less customers than Carson’s did,” Tokar said. “And that’s pretty good. We’re not talking about 50 percent or more here. So, our Sears has been doing really well.”

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