By RANDY PIERCE
More than two years after being closed permanently, the former Sears store at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights has been made available for sale by a St. Louis-based commercial real estate firm.
The former location in the largest shopping mall in Southern Illinois has been left idle since it ceased operating, like many others throughout the nation, in January of 2019. There had been no movement in the direction of selling it until recently.
Fairview Heights Director of Economic Development Paul Ellis said previously that the parent company was holding on to it while in bankruptcy proceedings because it represented a tangible asset its owners felt could serve some purpose in that process.
The firm offering the Fairview Heights former Sears for sale is called “Location.Commercial Real Estate” and headquartered in the Clayton area of St. Louis County.
Up for sale through the CRE business is not only the larger two-story former Sears store, measuring 158,625 square feet, equally divided between its first and second floors, but also the former automotive repair structure nearby which consists of 13,500 square feet.
This part of St. Clair Square is one of four designed for larger retail operations, the others being the current homes of the local Dillard’s, Macy’s and JC Penney. In April of 2020, Mayor Mark Kupsky mentioned this building as one that could possibly be used to serve as a temporary location for coronavirus patients in light of the overflow conditions being experienced at hospitals in places like New York City at that time.
In mid-2019, when a time capsule was buried in the ground in front of the City of Fairview Heights Municipal Complex at 10025 Bunkum Road, one of the items included in it was an information sheet containing details about the Sears closing a few months prior to that time.
Sears was a vital part of St. Clair Square when it opened in 1974 and remained so since until earlier in this century when consumer shopping trends resulted in the parent company’s financial distress leading to the closing of its stores.
Location.CRE’s promotional materials referencing this location sheds favorable light on Fairview Heights, citing that it is known as “The Crossroads of Prosperity,” a name developed in the 1990s to call attention to its status as an economic leader in this part of Illinois, and “the local center for trade and tourism in all of southwestern Illinois.”
Location.CRE said Fairview Heights’ anchor mall is the fifth largest in the St. Louis area with 41,204 active duty, civilian, dependent and retired military personnel within the confines of the city’s retail service area.
Sears Holdings (SHLD) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018, followed by a wave of store closures and deals in desperate attempts to stay afloat that failed to save the struggling retailer, which then listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities in that filing.
Launched with a catalog of watches and jewelry not long before being incorporated as Sears, Roebuck, and Co. in 1893, two years later, a Chicago clothing manufacturer, Julius Rosenwald, bought into the company. By that time, the mail-order operation branched out extensively from watches. Annual sales soon reached $750,000 and Sears’ iconic catalog ballooned to 532 pages. Farmers, fed up with understocked and overpriced general stores, flocked to Sears.
As Sears presented significant competition to those smaller general stores back then, its suffering from reduced customer traffic at its stores has been blamed in many retail trade publications and by many analysts of such activity on competition from other stores like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Home Depot along with the growth and presence of online shopping giant Amazon.