The Buffalo Niagara market will soon be down to just one Sears department store.
The Sears store at the Eastern Hills Mall will close after Christmas, according to Russell Fulton, the mall's manager. Sears, which has a recent history of quietly shuttering stores without announcing the closures, did not respond to a request for comment.
No exact closing date was available, and there's no indication as to when going-out-of-business sales will begin.
Employment listings on the Sears website for seasonal jobs at the Clarence mall bear the words "store closing" surrounded by asterisks in the listing's heading. There is no other information in the ad indicating when the store will shut its doors. The ads, with the "store closing" note, are circulating on other job search websites as well.
Sears Holdings Corp. sold the store's building and associated 20-acre property to Mountain Development Corp. and Uniland Development Corp. last week for $6.8 million. The two companies are redeveloping the mall together into a mixed-use town center.
Once the Eastern Hills store closes, the only remaining Sears department store in the Buffalo Niagara market will be at the McKinley Mall in Hamburg. There is another Sears department store in the Chautauqua Mall, as well as a handful of locally owned and operated Sears Hometown throughout Western New York.
In a proposal filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday, Sears chairman and CEO Edward Lampert said the company is at serious risk for bankruptcy if it doesn't majorly restructure its $5.6 billion in debt. Sears Holdings has just a few weeks to make good on a $134 million debt payment.
Lampert proposed selling off several stores and giving lenders equity stakes in exchange for loan forgiveness. He also proposed that Sears' lenders stop collecting rent on its loans for a year while the company tries to sell stores that back the loans. As part of that deal, Sears would sell the stores to its lenders for the amount of its debt if it fails to raise enough money by selling the stores and real estate to outside parties.
In addition to being CEO and chairman, Lampert is Sears Holdings' largest shareholder. His hedge fund also owns about 40 percent of Sears' debt.
Amherst-based Uniland and New Jersey-based Mountain are studying how best to proceed with the town center development. The Clarence Town Board last month rezoned 107 acres of mall property, including the Sears, from major arterial, commercial and restricted business to a newly created lifestyle center district. The new designation allows for residential development and denser development within the mixed-use project.