After more than 55 years selling drills, freezers, eyeglasses, underwear, studio portraits and Garanimals, Sears in St. Paul has come down to this: selling off its fixtures before it closes forever on Sunday.
One customer, Saw Cley of Maplewood, crammed a couple of the store’s clothing racks into the back of his minivan on Thursday. “I have too many kids,” said the father of three. “I need something for their laundry.”
On Thursday, a steady trickle of customers browsing for bargains among mostly bare shelves was all that was left of a once-bustling store that opened near the State Capitol in 1963. Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October and is closing more than 140 stores across the country, including its Mall of America and Ridgedale locations.
Rudy Lugo grunted as he hoisted a new microwave through the door and to his waiting car. He’d been waiting for months for the right deal. He paid $160 for a microwave normally priced at $500. The St. Paul father of five said he has come to Sears for items ranging from household appliances to children’s shoes.
“It’s pretty sad. We have been shopping here for years and years and years,” he said. “I don’t like to buy online. I like coming to the stores.”
Generations of Americans once shared Lugo’s dedication, making Sears one of the nation’s largest and most innovative retailers. Sears was renowned for its thick catalogs teeming with clothes, tools and even homebuilding kits — and Garanimals, which helped little children coordinate their shirts and pants.
But a leveraged buyout 10 years ago saddled the company with billions of dollars of debt just as the recession hit. The booming growth of online shopping made catalogs obsolete. Sears announced the closing of the Ridgedale and St. Paul stores in October; the Mall of America closure was announced a little more than a week ago and is scheduled to happen in March.
The shutdown of the St. Paul store will open up a large tract of real estate next to the State Capitol complex. The city Planning and Economic Development department wasn’t aware of any current proposals for its redevelopment, department spokeswoman Hannah Burchill said by e-mail Thursday.
St. Paul store officials declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to corporate headquarters. A call to Sears’ national media relations line was transferred to a voice mail that was full and not taking messages.
With just days remaining in St. Paul, huge signs throughout the store touted savings of up to 80 percent. By Thursday, there were far more empty shelves and disassembled store fixtures available for sale than the smattering of shoes, jeans and hand tools that remained. For appliances, there were three microwaves, a couple of convection ovens, a single refrigerator and a pair of washing machines and electric dryers hoping to find a good home.
Owen and Lisa Schickling made the trip north from Mankato to find a dishwasher. Almost all the appliances they’ve bought over the years were Sears’ Kenmore brand. After strolling through the mostly vacant store and talking to a saleswoman, they appeared to have snagged one of the last dishwashers that remained — paying about 25 percent of the previously listed price.
“We just buzzed up here on a whim,” he said. “We run two businesses and the way things are, economy-wise, you want to save where you can.”
He said it’s sad to see the demise of Sears. They lost the Sears store in Mankato a couple of years ago, he said. On this day, they were also hoping to find a fridge, he said. But the type they wanted was nowhere to be found.
“We’ll have to find something down by us,” Schickling said.