The last large-format Sears department store in Pennsylvania, at the Willow Grove Park mall, will close its doors permanently, perhaps in about a month.
“They’ve been dropping like flies,” said Jack Batra, who is known on social media as “List Man Jack” and part of a loose-knit community tracking through online postings, media announcements, and job boards the demise of the once-expansive Sears retail chain.
They estimate that only 16 large-format Sears stores remain after recent announced closings, including a Sears store shuttering in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday. Many smaller-format Sears stores, among them Sears Hometown Stores, with three outlets in Delaware, continue to operate. The Willow Grove store itself was down to a single floor of merchandise.
Transformco, the company liquidating the Sears and Kmart stores, confirmed the Willow Grove closing and has listed the store and a Sears auto center at Willow Grove for lease. A brochure circulated in 2021 lists the Willow Grove Sears property as seven acres with 26,800 cars a day passing by. Last year, 5.7 million people visited the Willow Grove Mall.
“Building off the regional draw of the mall and our existing tenant, Primark, there is strong redevelopment potential for this [Willow Grove] site,” Scott Carr, president of real state for Transformco, said in a statement to Pennlive.com. “We intend to reinvigorate and maximize the value of the real estate to meet the needs of the Willow Grove market.”
Transformco did not provide a date for the closing. Based on the timing of other store closings, Sears watchers estimate that the Willow Grove store will close in late February or early March.
Transformco has said that it’s “go-forward store strategy for Sears and Kmart is to operate a diversified portfolio consisting of a small number of larger, premier stores with a larger number of small format stores.” Part of the strategy also is to place Sears Hometown Stores and Home & Life stores in cities and towns that previously had larger format stores, the company said.
Sears was once the nation’s biggest retailer, with a huge footprint in the Philadelphia area, operating a sprawling mail-order complex on Roosevelt Boulevard with thousands of employees that closed in the early 1990s. It also sold merchandise at department stores, many in malls, throughout the region.
Battered by Walmart, online sellers led by Amazon, and a run of bad management, Sears has been disintegrating. Last November, Sears closed its last department store in its headquarters state of Illinois and the last one in Hawaii. The firm also put its headquarters complex in Illinois up for sale.
By comparison, Amazon has grown mightily in the last year. It now has nearly 60 warehouses ringing the Philadelphia area, many of them opened during the pandemic.
Calls to the Willow Grove Sears on Monday could not reach an employee.
Last November, The Inquirer reported that Willow Grove was the last full-line Sears store in Pennsylvania. The store had the feel of a closeout sale, with posters advertising 60% markdowns. Sears has scrunched two floors in the Willow Grove store into one with discounted dishwashers, refrigerators, and stoves fighting for attention with Ping-Pong balls, mattresses, tools, jeans, work jackets, pillows, and bedding.
A stripped-down Sears store in Camp Hill sells only mattresses and appliances. Calls there went to voicemail on Monday.
Chris Cronin, 21, is a college junior from North Jersey who produces YouTube videos on Sears closings. He created a video on the Willow Grove store. Cronin looks at Sears job postings and he noticed openings for temporary fixture removal at the Willow Grove store. “When people remove fixtures it’s the end, so to speak,” Cronin said.
Cronin said that Sears was “definitely before my time,” adding that “in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it was the place to shop. It was the Amazon before Amazon.”
“There are people who go out and do road trips and they will buy old cash registers and paperwork with the Sears name on it,” Cronin said. “Anything with the Sears name on it.”