Well folks, welcome to the closing chapter of a failed experiment. Sears is killing off one of their Hometowns in a Mainline store. Seemingly pulling off the opposite of “fat guy in a little coat” was not enough to justify keeping a tiny piece of the what was the final Sears in Houston open. If you’ve been following Houston Historic Retail, we’ve covered the Pasadena Town Square/Marcoplaza Mall Sears from reopening in November to a more recent check-in this Spring. While the situation did vastly improve between the two visits, the clear winner in this situation has been the Willowbrook Mall Sears Hometown, which will be the only “mainline” location remaining. Oddly these locations have had almost no impact on Houstonians during their operation, in my last visit to the Pasadena store, I generalized some of the constant conversations I heard. Most customers that managed to make it to these stores were not pleased with their findings and usually were in search of things a Hometown store can’t offer. Most left cursing the name of deities, some politicians, but almost everyone seems to have left unhappy. This is also reflected in the few Google Reviews posted about the stores. That isn’t to say, however, that these Sears Hometown stores didn’t have any sales, they seemed to be moving merchandise to an extent. This specific store however, is in the middle of a dead mall. A mall that was already on the decline when Sears closed the first time, but since losing Palais Royal, and almost every other interior tenant, nearly no one is coming to Marcoplaza Mall. The question remains then, what is the purpose of these stores? Well, I think I may have figured it out, some of it.
When speaking with an employee about what went wrong, they openly admitted that this store was “operating in a dead mall”. The employee mentioned that in their opinion the store should have opened in Baybrook Mall’s old Sears. They then spouted off a number of other nearby Sears Hometown Stores which are closing.
- Victoria, TX – 7508C N Navarro St, Victoria, TX 77904 (In a former Mainline store at Victoria Mall)
- Cypress, TX – 25704 US-290 W, Cypress, TX 77429 (Still using a Sears Appliance Showroom sign)
- League City, TX – 2801-H Gulf Fwy S Unit 18b, League City, TX 77573 (Sears Appliance location prior to 2019)
I asked if Willowbrook would stick around and their response was that it will be around for now, and has seemingly been designated a “hub store”. While I don’t think that’s what earned it the mall entrance, according to the employee, Willowbrook was facilitating the deliveries for any Sears Hometown Store in Houston. This is likely thanks to the large first-floor warehouse and loading dock in the building. The “for now” portion of that is because these buildings are still up for sale. In 2019 locations were split up between either Seritage (a REIT that Eddie Lampert is no longer involved with) or ESL investments (Lampert’s personal investments). The Hometown Stores we’ve seen operate in ESL Investments-owned locations. The Seritage properties sit in mixed states, some leased to other tenants, some still vacant, however, no Sears operations remain on these properties. The ESL-owned properties on the other hand are the site of these Sears Hometown operations, which Lampert reacquired in 2019 possibly in preparation for this move. As for what motive Lampert has to divvy up chunks of former department stores, it’s likely similar to a stunt pulled over 10 years ago with the beginning of shutdowns of Super Kmart. Rather than closing the entire stores, Kmart would reduce their operations to half or sometimes even 1/3 of the building, and lease out the rest. Sears Outlets were opened in the vacant spaces to kick-start the leasing process. To me, it seems that this may be the impetus that has Fast Eddie opening new stores in old locations. The question is why not use the very nice-looking Sears Home & Life brand, which debuted the same year as the Hometown purchase? Well as mentioned above, these stores are meant to be temporary. It looks like in this case the mistake that ESL made in Baybrook vs Pasadena falls back on which store closed first. Which itself was influenced by this Sears being the newest location in town, but that still didn’t save it from being in a dead mall. Goodbye Sears Hometown, I’m glad I got to see you!