Howdy, folks, and welcome to Houston Historic Retail! Today we’re back at everyone’s least favorite stomping grounds… Zombie Sears! With the recent closure of failed Pasadena Hometown Sears Conversion still looming over its head, things look somewhat bleak for a company that continues to close stores only months after opening. Despite all the tears shed for other locations of a retailer, which probably could have survived had they not “merged” with Kmart back in 2005. Let’s take a look back at one of the last real good ideas from before the merger, the Sears Grand concept. While Sears had started declining in status in the 80s and 90s compared to other corporations, they were still a competitive department store. The Grand concept was something really incredible at the time, it took a Sears a merged it with a Supercenter-style store. Meaning that you had a Sears selection of products set up in a non-mall Wal-Mart-style store (A single exterior entrance/exit, front-end numbered checkouts, a standardized layout, and a selection of groceries, including some refrigerated and frozen foods). The stores were meant to compete with Wal-Mart, Target, or even Kmart. However, with the merger of Sears and Kmart taking place a year later, Sears’ grand-Grand plans were put on hold. A few planned stores were built in a few new spots, such as Austin. However, the concept would end up mostly as Sears Essentials which saw the Sears name slapped on Kmart with a new coat of paint and not much else. While Sears Grand really could have helped the department store pivot into something sustainable, the concept was highjacked and used in a way that cheapened it. The reason I bring the Grand concept up is not to pine for the loss of a store I never knew but rather because I feel the same thing is happening with these Hometown Stores.
Going back and reading some of the earliest news on the Kmart-Sears merger, it revolves around the transfer of Kmart locations for new Sears Grand stores. At the time, all parties involved seemed optimistic as Sears Grand being the future, but there’s an interesting caveat in the contract that Kmart was required to operate the stores until April or May of the following year. By that point, however, the merger would be complete, allowing the new company could move forward with the cheaper Essentials plans. In 2012, years after Sears or Kmart had seen any profitability, Sears Hold Corp. began the process to start spinning off assets in what really was the start of the “true end” for the company. The company would start to spin off valuable assets, with executives often taking stock in the newly independent company. Over a time frame of years, Sears would spin off its Outlet and Hometown operations, well know brands like Land’s End, Craftsmen, and Kenmore, and their holdings in other companies like Sears Canada. In the majority, the spin-offs would perform well, with the Outlet and Hometown division receiving praise due to its success. Analysts identified this portion of Sears as being the “key component” of their business and a strong performer. In fact, going all the way to the birth of the “Grand Concept.” Sears had banked on not just competing with Wal-Mart and Target but appliance sellers like Home Depot and Lowe’s. In 2019 Sears would reacquire their Hometown stores, passing the Outlet locations onto another company. Looking to try a rebuild a core piece of business while dismantling another. So I still have to answer the question, why did this former Mainline Sears end up and stay a Hometown? Well, just as the Sears Grand concept was abandoned for Sears Essentials, the Sears Mainline concept was abandoned for this cheaper option. I (and the employees I’ve spoken to) have little faith this location will stay in the mall forever as Sears looks to lease or sell the building. However, in the meantime, it is making money, and being partially leased makes it more attractive. This space was never meant to be a Hometown, it’s just convenient.