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American icon, Sears, scales back; downtowns will feel retail loss.

City economies will feel the sting of last week's news that Sears, Roebuck and Co. will cut 50,000 jobs nation-wide, close 113 retail stores and eliminate its illustrious 97-year-old catalogue operation.

Closures are targeted for communities like Hornell, N.Y. and Gonzales, La. with populations below 10,000, to big cities like Philadelphia and Dallas where populations are over one million. The majority of closures will occur in smaller communities where Sears has been a retail anchor of community downtowns for dozens of years.

Many communities whose stores are scheduled to close, like St. Louis, Philadelphia and Dallas, already have been battered economically by reductions in defense spending. Still others, including Washington, D.C., recently have weathered the closure of other major retail stores. These shutdowns will have enormous impact in all of these communities, as the loss of any business can be devastating for a business district.

Downtowns especially can be affected when a major retail establishment decides to close or relocate, because a vital component of a Downtown's core make-up is removed, leaving a gap not often easy to fill. The loss of Sears, to many communities, means the loss of major force in the community, the loss of jobs for residents, the loss of a downtown retail anchor and the loss of tax revenue.

In random telephone interviews with local officials in communities where closures are occurring, most officials were still sizing up the potential impact and working to create immediate plans to deal with the situation.

Such is the case of Greenfield, Mass., where a Sears store is destined to be closed within several months.

Greenfield's Sears has been located downtown for the last 60 years and its closure will affect not only its 35 employees, but also most of the citizens who have grown up with Sears on their mainstreet. This loss is immense to a town with a population under 20,000 and a major blow for Greenfield's downtown development.

Two years ago, the town lost J.C. Penney. Kinney Shoes is also slated to leave. While advances are being made to attract retail businesses to the area, Greenfield is finding it difficult to revitalize its downtown and is searching for innovative ways to draw businesses back to their mainstreet.

A similar scenario is playing out in Shelby, N.C., (pop. 15,000), where Sears is leaving its downtown location and moving tea new location in a shopping mall five miles away. While most of the employees will accompany Sears to its new 89,000 square foot building, Shelby's downtown will be left far behind.

One city trying to cope adequately with its store closure is Dayton, Ohio (pop. 183,000). It, too, has a store located in downtown which will be moving to a suburban mall.

Three-hundred and fifty employees will be affected in the restructuring. However, Council member Tony Cappizi says that it is not as bad as it sounds. "The community is working with Sears to develop an outlet store which will remain in the original Sears space" located in downtown. One hundred of the 350 employees will be transferred to the new store while the remaining 250 will work the outlet store.

This arrangement is ideal for a community because its employees and downtown shopping district are adequately provided for. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in many communities which will have to cope with losing a mainstay and filling a void in their downtowns.
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Author:Price, Erica
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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